The Other Flowers

April is upon us – the beginning of a new financial and academic year, and for me, a change of schools.

Entrance ceremony is on April 8th this year, but the early arrival of the cherry blossoms and the amount of rain we can expect between now and then will almost ensure there will be almost no blossom on this day when cherry blossom’s attendance is mandatory…

But, I beg you, spare a thought for the other flowers.

I’ve recently covered magnolias, but it was the change of work places that made me take more notice of another spring flower, the dogtooth violet, trout lily or katakuri.

A patch of dogtooth violets near Inariyama Park, Sayama.

The dogtooth violet (Erythronium japonicum) is a member of the lily family, and is native to Japan as well as parts of China, Russia and Korea.  It is the only member of the genus Erythronium native to Japan.

Typically known as katakuri (片栗), it was once known by the name katakago (堅香子).  It is also known as the Spring ephemeral.

It grows at a variety of altitudes from plains to 2000 metre class mountains.  It shows a clear preference for broad-leafed deciduous forest environments, but can be found in conifer forests too.

A closer view of the same patch.  This area is fenced off and protected by the local neighbourhood.

The plant is estimated to live for between forty to fifty years, and it generally takes seven to eight years for a plant to grow from bulb to flowering age.  In addition to germinating from bulbs, they can also grow from seeds, which are spread by ants.

Unfortunately, the dogtooth violet is vulnerable to loss due to the usual reasons – urban encroachment on its environment and poaching of the plant.

A single dogtooth violet flower. These are in fact true lilies.

Dogtooth violet was once important as a source of starch, known as katakuriko (片栗粉) – literally “katakuri powder” – extracted from the bulbs.  Fortunately, this has been almost entirely replaced with starch from potatoes or taro, but still retains the katakuri name.  Although the aim of some of today’s “poaching” is possibly this hard-to-get commodity, it is only a small fraction of the damage done by collectors or even just people trouncing around off the beaten track and crushing everything underfoot.  Like I said, the usual suspects.

My first encounter with this flower was during a little walk out in the Chichibu-Okutama area (exactly where has escaped me) around 1999 or 2000.  Perhaps somewhere I still have an old snapshot.

More recently, I was delighted to discover a patch growing on my work route two years ago.  Unfortunately, my recent change of schools means I will no longer pass this violet delight in the late March to early June period.  It also means the photos for this post are older ones taken with my old mobile phone…  Sorry about that, Chief.

While my new commute route does not include any dogtooth violet flowers, it does take me through a small copse, tea fields, and past a section of forest.  Where the wild things are.

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