Spring Beauty (Claytonia Virginica)

The Spring Beauties started flowering in early March this year and haven’t let up a bit in April. They dot the woodland floor with happy, little starry blooms. Large groups of them are truly a beautiful site in the spring sunshine. They do require sunshine; they close each night and refuse to open up the next day unless the sun comes out. These tiny flowers are common at Ozarkedge. You might see them almost anywhere. I’ve noticed them in the grassy areas in the city parks and also in neighbors’ yards.

Claytonia virginica don’t want to open up unless the sun is out

Latin Name/Common NameClaytonia virginica is named for John Clayton.  He was a government official in Virginia with an interest in botany. He collected plant specimens, sending them on to a botanist to name and categorize. Claytonia virginica was named for him in 1739. The common name, Spring Beauty, is obvious. These flowers are among the first to bloom in spring, creating a beautiful site among the fallen leaves in the woods.

Bloom Color- The pretty flowers have five petals, which are typically light pink with prominent dark pink to reddish veins coursing through the petals. Occasionally, completely white flowers are seen. I’ve noticed that the color of the flower fades with the age of the bloom.

Typical flower with dark pink veins coursing through the petals

White blooms are much less common

Description- Spring beauties are small plants, only reaching 6-7 inches tall. They have two opposite, smooth and slender, grasslike leaves. Several flowers may be found on each plant. The flower buds tilt gracefully down before blooming and then lift their heads to look up when the blooms open.  Even though the size of the flowers is only about a half inch across, they still stand out in the woods.

Smooth stem and opposite grass-like leavesClose-up of leaf

Graceful buds waiting to open

Bloom Time- Being one of the earliest spring woodland flowers, Spring Beauties can be found blooming in February. But this year (2008) most of the spring flowers were a little late on Ozarkedge. I did not find any Spring Beauties in bloom until early March. They have a long bloom time, continuing throughout April into early May.

Habitat– Spring Beauties can be found throughout the Ozarks. In fact, they are found throughout most of the eastern US and as far west as Texas. They aren’t too picky about sunshine and can grow in semi-shade to nearly full sun. Their native habitat is open woods.

Claytonia viriginica prefer the mossy woodland, but are still quite happy in a city lawn

What’s Growing Nearby?- Other spring flowers found keeping company with Spring Beauties are Rue Anemone, Wood Violet, Buttercups and False Garlic.

Thalictrum thalictroides   Ranunculus hispidis    Nothoscordum bivalve

Interesting Tidbits– Spring Beauties grow from a corm that is edible. I have never eaten one and am not advocating it. But, I have read that they were considered delicacies by Native Americans. Apparently they taste like radishes when raw, but when baked have a flavor like potatoes or chestnuts. Of course, I discourage any digging of the wild plants. It’s best to enjoy them where they are and not contribute to their decreasing population in the wild.

It’s tempting to pick Spring Beauties for a bouquet, but it’s best not to do so. It takes too many to make a good bunch and they wilt too quickly to enjoy. Most importantly, if one is picked, usually the stem and both leaves are taken, leaving nothing to feed the root and corm for another year.

Endangered List- Claytonia Virginica, so sweet and delicate, has Endangered status in both Massachusetts and New Jersey and Historical status in Rhode Island.

http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CLVI3