Places We Protect

Trout Lily Preserve


of a dwarf trout lily.
Close-up of a dwarf trout lily. © The Nature Conservancy

This preserve is home to the largest-known population of the Minnesota dwarf trout lily.




This preserve is home to the largest-known population of the Minnesota dwarf trout lily, a federally endangered species found only in Rice, Goodhue and Steele counties. This delicate lily is the state’s rarest plant. Confined to a mere 600 acres, it is in danger of becoming extinct.

Trout Lily Preserve consists of bur and white oak savanna, maple-basswood and oak hardwood forests in an area of wooded ravines and includes a wooded floodplain. Old agricultural fields—within the upland portion of the preserve—were planted with trees several years ago.


This preserve is not open to the public. It is, however, near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, which also features the Minnesota dwarf trout lily.


Minnesota dwarf trout lilies are spring ephemerals, adapted to flower and grow before trees develop their leaves. By the time summer shade darkens the forest floor, this lily has bloomed, generated its food for the coming year and lost its leaves.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says this lily’s unique genetic information makes it important to everyone. Alkaloids from many plants are active ingredients in medicines and other useful products. The loss of this lily would eliminate forever the potential for such benefits.

The preserve also is host to a number of wildflowers that are common to maple-basswood forests. They include: false rue anemone, wild ginger, spring beauty, cut-leaved toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, sharp-lobed hepatica, bloodroot and violets.


Habitat loss threatens the survival of birds worldwide. Millions of songbirds migrate every spring from the Yucatan Peninsula across the Gulf of Mexico to the United States. Some of these birds find a spring and summer home at Trout Lily.

One of the most distinctive is the cerulean warbler, a small songbird that flits among treetops, making it difficult to find. The warbler’s plumage is cerulean blue above and white below, with white wing bars and white tail spots. Its numbers have declined by about 70 percent since 1966.

Other songbirds that frequent the preserve include oven birds, veery thrush, wood thrush, red eyed vireo and American redstart.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

The Nature Conservancy believes more can be accomplished by working together, in partnership. The Minnesota dwarf trout lily thrives, in part, because of the cooperation between organizations like the Conservancy, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, Cannon River Watershed Partnership and private landowners.

In 1979, the Conservancy had an opportunity to preserve some of this land for future generations. In 1990 and 1993, as more land became available, the Conservancy added to the preserve.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

By working with its many partners, Conservancy scientists hope to prevent this lily from becoming extinct. Because this delicate plant grows on the fragile banks of an ephemeral stream, protecting this lily means insulating it from rising, brisk waters that come with springtime storms.

The Conservancy, in partnership with DNR and a private engineering company, recently reclaimed two old gravel pits. They now collect storm water. Newly planted trees and erosion control blankets will further buffer the lilies from the effects of a large storm.

Conservancy staff and volunteers continue to study how storm water runoff impacts this federally endangered plant.




195 acres

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