Nuttall's death camus, a beautiful poisonous lily, has grown just above the leaf litter, but its short slim leaves are easily passed by. Before the tree canopy closes in mid-April, shading the ground, this striking plant will be three feet tall and sport a spectacular head of white flowers. Death camus is one of several woodland plants that get going early in abundant sunshine before the deciduous trees leaf out, limit light, and safeguard soil moisture. It opts for the light, a tradeoff like so many in nature -- an important lesson for those of us who want it all and are unwilling to wait.
Wild forest lilies have two strategies for avoiding dense shade and taking advantage of winter rain unused by dormant plants. The Hill Country (false) dayflower's approach is to sprout after autumn rains but stop at that and wait for spring. Another lifestyle, used by plateau spiderlilies, is to grow slowly on mild fall and winter days after those rains, and the third is to begin with lengthening days in January, like the death camus and southern plains trout lily. This does not require immediate rain but a bulb, a larger device for water and energy storage than the fleshy roots of spiderlilies and thin, diffuse annual roots of the dayflower.
The bulbs and seeds of Nuttall's death camus store toxic alkaloid compounds, giving the plant its name. Animals are sickened if they eat these but apparently not when they eat other parts, though I've watched white-tailed deer totally avoid the species. The big clusters of white flowers certainly stand out, advertising the plant's poisonous nature, protecting it while attracting insect pollinators. That the bulbs and flower heads with seeds are guarded makes good sense, since they are necessary for regrowth and sexual reproduction.