Henderson’s Fawn Lily

Last week while hiking to the top of Lower Table Rocks near Medford OR, Leonard and I were treated to a spectacular abundance of Henderson’s fawn lilies (Erythronium hendersonii). One of the earliest blooming wildflowers in the spring, this perennial native is found in semi-shaded oak woods in the drainage basins of the Rogue and Applegate Rivers in Oregon. It barely occurs in the three most Northwestern California Counties where it is considered a rare species.

A monocot (begins with only one seed leaf), Henderson’s fawn lily arises from a small bulb. The roots on the bulb pull it deeper each year. Eventually Henderson’s fawn lily bulbs can be situated a foot or more below the surface.

A leafless, reddish, central flower stalk (peduncle) extends upward from two basal leaves. The reddish or white mottling on the upper side of the leaves resembles the pattern on a fawn and gives this lily its common name.

The six tepals (structure not clearly a sepal or petal) of the nodding flower reflex as the bloom ages, eventually resembling star. Henderson’s fawn lily has a coloration different from the other fawn lilies. The lance-shaped tepals are lavender to reddish purple with a dark purple base surrounded by white or yellow. There are six stamens and the style has three blunt lobes.

Henderson’s fawn lily fruits are capsules with three chambers, each containing two rows of seeds. The fruit splits open longitudinally between the chamber partitions.

The bulbs, leaves and flowers of Henderson’s fawn lily are edible with palatability in that order. The small size of the bulbs does not justify the death of this pretty plant with such a restricted range. In addition, other genera in the Lily Family are poisonous so care must be taken not to accidentally ingest a “look-alike”.

Although contemporary herbalists do not usually use Henderson’s fawn lily medicinally, Native Americans used preparations of Erythronium to reduce fever and swelling, to fight infection and as a contraceptive.

The genus name of Henderson’s fawn lily, Erythronium, comes from the Greek “erythros” meaning “red” – probably from the reddish color of the leaves and flowers in some members of this genus. Louis Fourniquet Henderson (1853 – 1942), an American botanist, professor and herbarium curator, is honored by the species designation.

Although Leonard and I found many interesting plants on the Lower Table Rocks Trail, the Henderson’s fawn lily display alone was worth the hike.

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