White Dogtooth Violet

Photo of white dogtooth violet colony
Scientific Name
Erythronium albidum
Liliaceae (lilies)

Flowers white to bluish white, often nodding at the ends of stems. Tepals (petals and sepals) recurve, or bend backwards, as the flower ages. Flowering is restricted to 2-leaved plants. Blooms March–May. Leaves to 6 inches long, elliptical, mottled dull green and brown with a silvery coating. This plant is sometimes called “thousand-leaf” because, in large colonies, literally thousands of leaves cover the ground. Root a corm. It takes at least 4 years to raise a flowering plant from seed.

Similar species: Prairie dogtooth violet, E. mesochoreum (also called “white dogtooth violet”), is found mainly south of the Missouri River in dry places, glades, and prairies. The tepals do not recurve, the leaves are narrow and without mottling, and the single leaves of nonflowering plants do not appear until after flowering and are few.

Height: to about 7 inches.
Where To Find
image of White Dogtooth Violet distribution map
Occurs in moist bottomland and upland forests of ravines and valleys, often in alluvial soils, less commonly on shaded lower ledges of bluffs. Hikers often encounter this species in a big colony of nonflowering (young) plants, which amount to hundreds of single leaves poking out of the ground. (See “similar species” above for prairie-dwelling relative.)
This plant looks absolutely nothing like a violet, and for good reason: It isn’t one! A member of the lily family, it is more closely related to tulips, hostas, and hyacinths. Alternate (and better) common names include “white trout lily” and “white fawn lily,” both of which reference the mottled leaves and put the plant in the correct family.
Some people say the leaves and corms of these plants are edible, but others report they act as an emetic. Because the flowers are so beautiful, they are often used in gardens. If you want to plant them, please don’t dig them from the wild. Instead, purchase from ethical nurseries.
There are four members of the genus Erythronium in Missouri. The other two, E. americanum and E. rostratum, are both called “yellow adder's tongue” or “yellow dogtooth violet,” and both have yellow petals and sepals. All contribute to the rich flora of our state.
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Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!