Hunting for the rare dwarf trout lily

The Minnesota dwarf trout lily is a federally endangered wildflower that grows in only three Minnesota counties (Rice, Goodhue, and Steele) and nowhere else in the world. Nerstrand Big Woods is the only state park, and perhaps the only public location, where visitors can see this rare flower.

One late Saturday afternoon in April 2012, I was traveling through the Nerstrand area and decided to try to find this special wildflower. Even though it was getting dark so the blooms were closed for the night, I was excited to find lots of white trout lilies:

white trout lilies, petals closed

…until I got home and did some more research, only to learn that the park is also home to regular white trout lilies. Since I’m familiar with yellow trout lily, which is about the same size as what I found, my heart sank to realize that I had not found the dwarf variety.

The next spring, after a visit to Faribault, my husband and I headed just 10 miles northeast to the state park. This time, I knew that the white flowers we saw were not dwarf, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying them:

white trout lily with petals open

Fast-forward to 2014. Surely, the third time would be the charm, right? But it was mostly cloudy with a few scattered sprinkles the one day we could head to Nerstrand Big Woods − not exactly prime trout lily weather, so none of the flowers were open. It was nearly impossible to see any buds, but we searched anyway. Finding one by identifying its leaves wasn’t an option since they are identical to the leaves of the regular trout lily, so we would need to find a bud.

We found several closed buds that could have been dwarfs. But “they” say that if you find one, you’ll know, so almost certainly this is not one:

white trout lily bud

In its closed state, with a shorter stem than ones that were definitely regulars, I’d call it a “medium trout lily.” If it were open, it would be more clear. But because we didn’t know, it probably wasn’t what we were looking for, so we kept walking. There were plenty of leaves to study:

trout lily leaves

Any other day, I would have been thrilled to see all of the other wildflowers: my personal favorite, bloodroot, plus Dutchman’s breeches, marsh marigold, wild ginger, cutleaf toothwort:

Bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, marsh marigold, wild ginger, cutleaf toothwort

But this day, nothing but the dwarf trout lily would do. Fortunately, the sun was beginning to shine, so the flowers were starting to open. We remembered seeing a DNR camera on the boardwalk, likely pointed at one of the dwarf lilies. Sure enough, after retracing our steps to the camera, we found one. The petals weren’t fully open, but it was definite:

dwarf trout lily

Cheating? Maybe. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Next year, we’ll try again.

More about wildflowers

Visited: May 9, 2014

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Categories: Rice County | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Hunting for the rare dwarf trout lily

  1. Pingback: Overnight in Faribault | 87 Counties

  2. I’ve been looking for dwarf trout lilies this year. I thought I may have found some at the Clinton Falls Dwarf Trout Lily SNA, but it turns out that they were just regular trout lilies. I hope to see some this weekend! Loved this post and the photos. :)

    • Crystal Colby Mulry

      I didn’t realize there is another public viewing spot until I saw your Instagram post! Didn’t make it all the way to Clinton Falls today, but we stopped by Nerstrand for half an hour on our way home from Carley and found several. It really is true: when you find one, you’ll know. I found one small group of them myself, then a kind couple pointed out a bigger patch nearby. I had already walked by them and missed them, they’re so tiny. It’s hard to tell their true size from photos because they’re always zoomed in too far to show much perspective. It was really fun to see them in person!

  3. Pingback: Minnesota state parks in springtime | 87 Counties

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