By Joseph Mooney
Each week we showcase a plant that’s native to the continental United States. This week’s plant is spring beauty (Claytonia virginica).
There are many signs of spring: birds, butterflies, weather, calendars. In your neighborhood of eastern North America, you know spring has finally arrived when you catch a glimpse of Claytonia virginica blooming. Like so many spring ephemerals, these delicate, pink to white spring flowers call out to be observed close up. And sooner rather than later, because they don’t last long.
You can see spring beauty blooming in April at Nichols Arboretum along the trails and at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in the Helen V. Smith Woodland Wildflower Garden. It generally likes woods with deciduous trees nearby, and the woods may be dry or moist. In his notes for the Oakland County Michigan blog, naturalist Jonathan Schechter writes that “spring beauties may be found in small clumps near nutrient rich decaying logs or they may carpet a large swath of forest floor creating incredibly vivid yet highly delicate ephemeral beauty.”
Spot spring beauty in our Michigan woods as a low-growing plant with star-like, five-petaled, pinkish-white flowers with pink veins. Spring beauty’s narrow, grass-like foliage emerges from a tuberous root (corm) and goes dormant later in the spring after the plants have bloomed. Spring beauty does best in areas that have been left undisturbed.
Spring beauty is said to have a delicate floral scent. All the more reason to kneel and lean close for a puff of spring the next time you see some. I have yet to detect that scent but will certainly be trying this spring!
Fascinating eco-fact: As much as a third of spring-flowering native plants have evolved a strategy of seed dispersal by ants. The ants are attracted to small structures attached to the seeds called elaiosomes, which consist of lots of nutritious fats that the ants feed to their larvae. The seed itself is then discarded, helping to grow a new spring beauty. Pictured: Ants harvesting trillium seeds. Photo by Amy Hoffman Mawby.
Story sources: Illinois Wildflowers; Minnesota Wildflowers; University of Michigan Herbarium; The Natural Web; New York Botanical Garden.
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