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Erythronium montanum

Erythronium montanum

Although I'm away in the field and most entries will be brief during the next couple weeks, summer student Raakel Toppila has stepped in to help write a few entries, including today's accompaniment to the photo. – Daniel

Thank you to Brent aka foliosus@Flickr from Portland, Oregon for sharing today's image (original via BPotD Flickr Group Pool).

Erythronium montanum, or avalanche lily, can be found in subalpine meadows and coniferous forests of Washington, Oregon and southern British Columbia (distribution map). It is among twenty-nine trout lilies native to North America, (list of North American species). The plants take advantage of high soil moisture, blooming just after snow melt.

Erythronium comes for the Greek word meaning red, “erythros”. I have read that this refers to a pink-flowered species used to make dye; however, I cannot find a reliable source supporting this fact. More usefully, knowing this prefix can help when encountering other botanical names, such as erythrocalyx (red calyx), erythrocarpus (red fruit) or erythropodus (red-footed or red-stalked).


Thank you, Brent in Oregon, for sending this lovely photo of avalanche lily flowers.

Oh What a pretty flower. My sister would have loved it, as her favorite color was yellow, and this one would have touched her heart. I wish that I knew how big the flower is in real life. I bet it is a little tiny blossom, maybe an inch long from stem to tip of petal. Sometimes size is so hard to judge from these beautiful photos.

Hi Raakel and Daniel,

The intimate connection between botany and etymology is always a fascinating one and certainly from my perspective as a schoolboy in Scotland studying Latin and Greek whilst surrounded by Rowans (see below) and a multitude of other robust, rufous, or otherwise rubicund plants, a world all its own.

The following description of the Indo-European root etymology of the oldest form derived from the Greek will switch you on to even more uses and derivations from the prefix eruthro:


From delicate-flowered erythroniums to hard-edged rubies in the click of a link - what a joy!

Regarding the basis for the genus name I'd try
The Plant-Book
A Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants
2nd Edition
D. J. Mabberley
University of Oxford and University of Leiden, if you haven't already.

According to the New RHS Dictionary, Erythronium is from the flower colour of the first species described Erythronium dens-canis. Plants for a Future doesn't mention any usage for dyes: http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Erythronium+dens-canis

Flower size - the tepals ('petals') are 2-2.5 cm long and 7-15 mm wide:

de l'Obel thought that this was the plant Dioscorides called Satyrion erythronion, which was describes as having seeds like flax but larger, firm and shining and a sweet white root with a reddish rind, shaped like testicles and therefore believed to be an aphrodisiac. Others have idetified Dioscorides' plant as Fritillaria graeca or Scilla bifolia.

Thanks for the excellent info, David: there is nothing reddish about E. dens-canis flowers. There is a german translation of Dioscurides here:


which only confirms that L'Obel was confused: the bulbs aren't reddish either, as you can see from Ian Young's pictures on this page:


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