CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Erythronium elegans

W. Bluhm

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Erythronium elegans

Common Names: 
Coast Range fawn-lily, Coast Range trout-lily, dog-tooth violet, elegant fawn-lily, elegant trout-lily
Hammond and Chambers
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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 Fish & WildLife

Erythronium elegansenlarge
Photographer: W. Bluhm

Erythronium elegansenlarge
Photographer: Ed Guerrant

Erythronium elegans is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Edward Guerrant, Ph.D. contributed to this Plant Profile.

Erythronium elegans

Erythronium elegans presents something of a paradox. It is a geographically highly restricted, very rare plant, that also an ecological generalist. It has been found growing in only five localities, all in the northern Coast Range of Oregon. Even within particular populations, they can be found growing quite contentedly in a wide variety of habitats: from bare soil to completely vegetated ground; in either full sun or deep shade; growing in dry shale road cuts and saturated Sphagnum moss.

Without careful management, the elegant fawn lily may one day be found nowhere. With such a low number of populations, the species is susceptible to extinction due to habitat destruction and random events. The species is listed as Threatened by the State of Oregon, but all populations are found on Federal or private land, and consequently, there is no real legal protection. Presently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recognize this species as a "Species of Concern". If the coast-range fawn lily were to receive listing under the Endangered Species Act, four populations would fall under jurisdiction of the federal government, since they are located on federal land. Listing is especially critical since two of the most recently discovered populations are either in or adjacent to potential timber sales on federal land (Guerrant 1999). The Nature Conservancy and the Oregon Native Plant Society are presently monitoring the remaining population on private land.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Erythronium elegans
  • Northern Coast Range in Oregon, in open meadows, rocky cliffs, brushland, open to closed canopy coniferous forests, and edges of sphagnum bogs (Grenier 1991).

  OR: Coast Range

Number Left
  5 populations. Four are on federal land, and one is privately owned but monitored by The Nature Conservancy and the Oregon Native Plant Society (Guerrant 1992). Population sizes range "100's in flower", "100-1000", "300", to "thousands." This large population numbering in the "thousands" contains 95% of the total number of individuals (ONHP 2000).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Oregon S1 LT 7/12/1995  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Erythronium elegans is a narrowly endemic plant. Only five populations have ever been found, including two that were discovered in the last decade. All are found in the Oregon Coast Range.

Erythronium elegans is found in a wide variety of habitats. It has been found on bare soil and completely vegetated ground, in full sun and deep shade, in Sphagnum moss and in shale road-cuts (Guerrant 1992). Species associated with Erythronium elegans include Erythronium grandiflorum var. pallidum, Fragaria sp., Lupinus sp., and various grasses. It also occurs in open coniferous forests under Picea, Pseudotsuga, and Thuja. (Grenier 1991)

In an extensive demographic study, it was observed that the site with the greatest population growth had, on average, the lowest levels of phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, ammonium, and nitrate in the soil (6 of the 8 nutrients tested for). One hypothesis is that Erythronium elegans is generally at a competitive disadvantage relative to its associated species. If this is the case, E. elegans may do better in poor soil conditions where it may have the ability to obtain sufficient nutrients where other taxa do not do as well (Guerrant 1999).

A complex interaction between the amount of nutrients, light levels, herbivory, and ground cover most likely determine where Erythronium elegans will be successful. In four sites that were observed, the two sites with stable populations were not shaded and were heavily grazed by elk. The site with a high growth rate was under young trees, and therefore protected from elk grazing, and the ground was covered by Douglas fir needles. The site with declining numbers was under a closed mature canopy, so was heavily shaded, and the ground had a well developed moss and herbaceous plant layer. Given that E. elegans may be a poor competitor, Guerrant (1999) suggests that intense competition from the herbaceous plant layer may outweigh the advantage of escaping elk herbivory. Available light levels may also be influencing plant vigor and survival.

Each spring, flowers and leaves emerge. Throughout the growing season, the leaves produce energy, which is stored in the bulb for growth the following spring. In the demographic study (Guerrant 1999), as much as 13% of the population was observed to be dormant in any one year. Some plants were observed to remain dormant for up to three years.

In one site, sexual reproduction was relatively low compared to the other observed sites. The reason for this decreased sexual reproduction is not known. However, that site has high vegetative reproduction relative to the other sites. It is possible that the plants are physiologically and morphologically responding in an adaptive manner to whatever is causing sexual reproduction to be limited (Guerrant 1999). Although vegetative reproduction increases plant numbers, it may not be entirely beneficial. A population comprised of many clones may not be as resilient to climate and habitat changes as a smaller population with more genetic diversity.

  • Plant and habitat destruction due to logging.
• Herbivory and grazing.
• Fungal infection (Guerrant 1999).
• Plant collection for horticultural purposes.

Current Research Summary
  • A six-year demography study compared population growth between one presumably healthy population and a population believed to be in decline. Each population was subdivided into two focal populations, and analysis showed that one focal population was growing vigorously, one was in serious decline, and the remaining two populations were stable (Guerrant 1999).

Current Management Summary
  • Seed from 3 of the 5 populations stored at The Berry Botanic Garden.
• Listed as Threatened by the State of Oregon.
• Monitoring is being conducted by the Nature Conservancy and the Oregon Native Plant Society at the one population located on private land.

Research Management Needs
  • Initiate a comprehensive, highly detailed, GIS based inventory of the extent and density of E. elegans, including data on stage distribution and microhabitat types (Guerrant 1999).
• Establish a long-term monitoring scheme that is more extensive and less labor intensive than a demographic study (Guerrant 1999).
• Ensure that management actions for other species (e.g.: mowing or burning to maintain habitat for Viola adunca, larval food plant for Oregon silverspot butterfly) do not adversely affect E. elegans (Guerrant 1999).
• Monitor elk populations in order to make informed management decisions concerning herbivory (Guerrant1999).
• Monitor Douglas Fir blight as it could adversely affect E. elegans (Guerrant 1999).
• If possible, determine whether Erythronium elegans was once more common and widespread. Are the low population numbers due to human-caused disturbances (i.e.. habitat destruction) or have population numbers always been low (i.e.. narrow endemic)?
• Study the gene flow between populations.
• Determine if inbreeding or high clonality of the populations is a threat to the species' continued survival.
• Determine what light levels/canopy cover is best for vigorous growth and manage the land to increase or maintain suitable habitat.

Ex Situ Needs
  • Collect and store seeds from across the species range.
• Determine germination requirements.
• Determine effective propagation and re-introduction protocols.


Books (Single Authors)

Grenier, K. 1991. Handbook to the Sensitive Plants of the Siuslaw National Forest. Corvallis, Oregon: Siuslaw National Forest. 106p.

ONHP. 2001. Rare, Threatened and Endangered Plants and Animals of Oregon.

Scoggan, H.J. 1978. The Flora of Canada. National Museums of CA, Publications in Botany.

Books (Edited Volumes)

James C. Hickman, Editor. 1993 The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1400p.

Conference Proceedings

Allen, G.M.; Soltis, P.S.; Soltis, Douglas E. The origins of two allotetraploid species of Erythronium (Liliaceae): evidence from ITS and psbA-trnH DNA sequences and AFLP markers. Botany 2002--Botany in the Curriculum: Integrating Research and Teaching; August 2-7, 2002; Pyle Conference Center--University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. 2002.

Electronic Sources

ONHDB. (2000). Oregon Natural Heritage Program Database. Portland, Oregon.

Journal Articles

Hammond, P.C.; Chambers, J.L. 1985. A New Species of Erythronium (Liliaceae) from the Coast Range of Oregon. Madroρo. 32, 1: 49-56.

Harder, L.D.; Cruzan, M.B.; Thomson, J.D. 1993. Unilateral incompatibility and the effects of interspecific pollination for Erythronium americanum and Erythronium albidum (Liliaceae). Canadian Journal of Botany. 71: 353-358.

Hughes, J.W. 1992. Effect of removal of co-occurring species on distribution and abundance of Erythronium americanum (Liliaceae), a spring ephemeral. American Journal of Botany. 79: 1329-1336.

Raven, A. 1996. Conservation Corner: Rare Plant Field Season. The Berry Botanic Garden Newsletter. 9, 2: 4.


Guerrant, E.O. 1999. Comparative demography of Erythronium elegans in two populations: one thought to be in decline (Lost Prairie) and one presumably healthy (Mt. Hebo). Final report on five transitions, or six years of data. Submitted to the Bureau of Land Management, Salem District. p.85.

Guerrant, E.O. Jr. 1992. Comparative Demography of Erythronium elegans in Two Populations: One Thought to be in Decline (Lost Prairie) and One Presumably Healthy (Mt. Hebo). Portland, OR: The Berry Botanic Garden. p.27.

Guerrant, E.O. Jr. 1992. Summary of the Activities by The Berry Botanic Garden between 10/1/90 and 9/31/91 on Sensitive Plant Species of Concern to the Bureau of Land Management. Portland, OR: The Berry Botanic Garden. p.6.

  This profile was updated on 7/8/2010
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