Height 10-30cm (4-12in)
Planting distance 10-15cm (4-6in)
Flowers mid to late spring
Shady or sunny site
Corms available in early and mid autumn
Erythroniums are among the most attractive spring-flowering plants with their delicate white, yellow or purple-pinkthat resemble little Turk’s-cap , and their broadly lance-shaped marble-patterned leaves. All three common species are natives of woodland, requiring some shade and moist, humus-rich soil. The best situation for them in the garden would be a semi-wild wooded corner or a cool shady patch among shrubs. If you have a peat garden or a border full of rhododendrons, erythroniums are the ideal bulbs for providing ground interest in spring.
Erythronium denscanis, often referred to as dog’s tooth violet, has pink-purple flowers on 10-15cm (4-6in) high stems, and green leaves blotched grey or brown. It is the only European species and the one most commonly cultivated. Named varieties include ‘Frans Hals’ (rosy purple), ‘Wonder’ (pale purple with brown blotches at the base of the flowers), ‘Pink Perfection’ (clear pink with yellow centres) and ‘Snowflake’ (white). These varieties are often sold as a mixed selection.
Erythronium revolutum, or American trout lily, is the parent of a number of garden varieties with yellow or white flowers. ‘White Beauty’ (white flowers with yellow centres) is the free-flowering form most often found in gardens. It has two beautiful brown and white mottled leaves and 30cm (1ft) high stems carrying one or two flowers. Other garden forms range in colour from pink to purple with deeper markings. The yellow ‘Kondo’ and creamy-yellow, pink flushed ‘Joanna’ are hybrids of E. revolutum and E. tuolumnense.
Erythronium tuolumnense has bright yellow drooping flowers and pale green leaves on 23-30cm (9-12in) high stems. It is named after California’s Tuolumne River, on whose banks it grows wild. The plants have taken readily to garden cultivation and quickly form clumps. The hybrid ‘Sundisc’ has golden-yellow flowers with red centres, and bronze foliage.
Erythroniums should be planted in moist, but not,soil rich in organic matter. A shady site or north-facing slope is best as the soil there is less likely to dry out. Avoid any site that will become hot and dry in summer. Plant the corms in early autumn, immediately after purchase. Arrange them 10-15cm (4-6in) deep and 10-15cm (4-6in) apart, in groups of at least twelve. Top-dress annually in late summer with forest bark chips or leaf-mould. Once in the ground, erythroniums are best left undisturbed. If you have to move them, do so after flowering when the leaves die down.
As the plants dislike disturbance, it’s best to buy fresh corms to increase stock. Left undisturbed, and grown under suitable conditions, erythroniums will sometimes seed themselves.
Pests and diseases