May 08, 2014

Plant of the month: Claytonia virginica

It's spring ephemeral time in my garden and each day brings new blooms and new discoveries. With warm weather, they're fading fast, but I managed to capture a few, including Claytonia virginica, nicknamed Spring Beauties.

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From a distance, Spring Beauties look similar to other tiny white wildflowers, but on closer inspection several features set this ephemeral apart. Each stem holds a floppy grouping of buds that open into five-petaled, half-inch flowers. The petals are lined with pinkish/lavender stripes. The five stamens actually have pink anthers!

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The stigma forms a three-part prong that reminds me of the cross-shaped stigma on the Evening Primrose.

foliage

In my garden, the foliage of the Spring Beauties intermingles with the more showy foliage of neighboring ephemerals and ground covers. But the arrows in the photo show its grass-like structure.

This tiny treasure is visited by numerous pollinators, including various bees, flies, and occasionally butterflies and moths, according to Illinoiswildflowers.info. A close relative, Claytonia carolina, is found more often in the Southern U.S., although C. virginica is native to most of Eastern North America, so their ranges overlap.

Apparently, the underground tubers of Spring Beauty are not only edible, but quite tasty. Because of this, another nickname for the plant is Fairy Spud. Edible plants specialist, Euell Gibbons devoted a chapter to Spring Beauties in his book, "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," describing them as similar to boiled Chestnuts, but with a "softer, smoother texture." Click here to see and learn more about the tubers.

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Spring Beauties are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, and are most common in partially shaded or woodland locations, according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The plant is listed as endangered in Massachusetts and protected in Rhode Island.

Here are a couple of other ephemerals recently blooming in my garden:

false rue anemone

False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum), and

bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Euell Gibbons described the blooms of Spring Beauties as "food for the soul." I agree, and feel the same can be said for other native ephemerals that appear in Midwestern woodlands this time of year.

22 comments:

  1. It is the real Spring Beauties. For the first sight, I think it's a pelargonium. So beautiful in cool and cslm color. Thank for sharing me the beauty.

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    1. Ah, yes, I see what you mean about the resemblance. The color also strikes me as beautiful, although it's almost imperceptible until you get very close to the flowers. Thanks for your kind comments, Endah.

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  2. This is a new flower for me Beth....thank you for the introduction! Hope your springtime is gracefully opening all its garden gifts to you. with love, Susie

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    1. You're welcome, Susie! Spring is in full swing here in Southern Wisconsin now! And hunting spring ephemerals is one of my favorite activities. I frequently tell people that May is one of the best times of year to visit this part of the world. :)

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  3. Such delicate beauty...much too pretty to eat.

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    1. I agree, Ricki. If I had more of them on my property, I might venture to pull one and taste it, but it's only a very small patch. Maybe I should try to collect the seeds and spread them around. Several sources mention how little the "spuds" are, though, and that you'd need a large quantity of them to make a meal. So, I'd rather enjoy the flowers. :)

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  4. Now I know why Claytonia sounds familiar to me...they are growing all over the farm...I think they have just finished. Oh they truly are spring beauties.

    Jen

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    1. Ah, lucky you! And it sounds like you have enough to pick a few and add them to a salad, or at least taste them. I agree--the name is just right for this plant!

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  5. I love you apptly named "spring beauty", and am struck by how similar the flower coluring is to my hawthorn, pink anthers and greeny-yellow center. Must be a good way to attract pollinators.

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    1. Yes, that's true about the flower similarities! The pink anthers definitely attract my attention. Why, if I were a bee ... ;-)

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  6. This is such a pretty and delicate flower Beth and it is also good to know it is native to North America and good for pollinators. Thanks for sharing the info on these. I bet they would serve nicely in a wildflower garden.

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  7. The same flowers are blooming here in the woods. I was not familiar with Spring Beauty until a friend pointed it out. They are tiny. My friend also pointed out the Rue, although there was no flowers yet. Bloodroot is finished blooming here. Nice photos Beth.

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  8. Great photos, Beth. I love how you got so close to point out so much detail!

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  9. I can see the delicate beauty of these flowers in your close up shot, first photo, beautiful.

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  10. So beautiful these springtime treats are . . .

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  11. that flower is new to me, Beth, I found it very interesting to focus so closely on its appearance, pollinators and uses. It must look very lovely in a large drift.

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  12. Great post. This is one I have heard of but have not seen either in gardens or in the wild. A lovely wildflower. I just had some bloodroot bloom for me for the first time.

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  13. These little blooms are gorgeous! Another wildflower I definitely want to add to my garden. I just planted some bloodroot this spring and hope it takes off and spreads as it did for the gardener who kindly shared it with me. "Fairy Spud"--I even like that name:)

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  14. Hi Beth, i love the very crispy delicate fresh petals in that first photo. How long do they stay open?

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  15. Beautiful! I'm not familiar with Spring Beauties but they are lovely. And edible too!

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  16. I have always wanted these for the spring native garden, but for some reason did not plant any yet...so this is a wonderful reminder that i must plant these stunning petite little beauties.

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  17. What a pleasure to at least flowers growing in your garden!!! Enjoy the ephemerals, they look beautiful!

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