Dog's tooth violet
The genus Erythronium comprises 27 species of bulbous perennials, the majority of which are found in North America. The genus is closely related to the tulips, Tulipa. Several species occur in Europe and Asia, the Dog's tooth violet being the only species native to central and eastern Europe. It occurs in grassy meadows and woodlands to altitudes of 1700 m, flowering in early spring after snows melt and becoming dormant in the summer.
The plant has an asymmetrical, membranous bulb, apparently reminiscent of a dog tooth, hence the common name. This produces a pair of broad basal leaves with a distinctive mottled pattern and a leafless scape bearing, in this species, a single, pendent flower up to 10 cm long. The flower has six reflexed perianth segments in two whorls. Segments in the inner whorl have small median auricles which support the stamens. The tepals range in colour from purple to pink, with a distinctive white form also occurring. Stamens have flattened filaments and bear blue-purple anthers with lilac pollen.
Erythronium dens-canis has a long history of cultivation in Europe. The plant was praised by early gardening writers, such as Englishman John Parkinson in 1629. Other species of Erythronium from North America became popular as garden plants from this period, their cultivation encouraged by a belief in their aphrodisiac qualities. Distinct Erythronium dens-canis clones have been named as cultivars, such as 'Frans Hals' and 'Old Aberdeen'. Several American species of Erythronium have been crossed to produce horticultural hybrids.
Several parts of the plant are reputed to be edible. The leaves have been eaten raw or boiled, and the bulbs have been processed into flour. Johann Gmelin, Professor of Botany at St. Petersburg University in the mid-eighteenth century, wrote that a 'nourishing and excellent' soup could be made from the bulbs. In Mongolia and Siberia the bulbs have been eaten with reindeer or cow milk. They have also been a source of culinary starch in China and Japan, producing a sort of 'vermicelli' and an ingredient for cakes. The American species Erythronium grandiflorum is unearthed and eaten by bears and has been a staple food for people in the locality. Various medicinal properties have also been attributed to Erythronium species, from the traditional use of Erythronium dens-canis in Europe as a vermifuge, emollient and emetic to a modern interest in Erythronium japonicum because of its apparent properties to enhance mental function.
Matthew B. 1987. The smaller bulbs. Batsford.
Pavord A. 2009. Bulb. Mitchell Beazley.