Spring Beauty – Claytonia Virginica – Facts, Grow, Care

Spring Beauty is a member of the Portulacaceae or Purslane family and is a spring ephemeral wildflower.  That means that it will emerge very early in Spring, and bloom early.  It will produce its seed early and then go into dormancy, with no trace of the flower left by mid-summer, only to reemerge next Spring.  This is similar to Virginia Blue Bells.  If allowed, the plant can form colonies that result in large, lovely carpets of pink-white flowers that last for about a month.Spring Beauty Flower

Spring Beauty is one of the earliest Spring Wildflowers to bloom in the Eastern United States.  This small, petite plant makes white/pink flowers with stripes on the petals.  It is rather short, being only a few inches tall (7 cm).  When you see this flower blooming in March/April – you know that Spring has now begun and warmer temperatures are on their way.

Spring Beauty Facts

  • Native to Eastern North America, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean
  • A very important native plant for bees, as it is one of the earliest nectar sources
  • This is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom in Spring
  • The tuber roots are edible, and taste like sweet potato
  • When large grown en-mass, is a gorgeous pink/white carpet on the forest floor
  • Can grow in your lawn if you are slow to mow, and keep the deck at the highest setting
  • Is often found growing near Wild Violets
  • Is hardy from USDA zones 5-9, check your USDA zone here

Physical Description

Leaves

Spring Beauty is a small herbaceous perennial flower native to Eastern North America.  It is comprised of a cluster of leaves at the base that are approximately 2-4″ long by 1/4″ wide, slender with a vein running the length of the leaf. There is an additional pair of leaves that are very small, like blades of grass that occur part-way up the stem.

Bloom

Attached to the base is a stem containing several flowers.  The flowers are quite small, 1/4″-3/8″ (6-9 mm) diameter.  There will be five petals per flower.  Each petal will have several lines/veins that will be pink.  The shade of pink seems to be highly variable, from a dark shade of pink to almost whitish-pink.  The flowers close at night or when it is particularly cold.  Seed capsules will eventually form, and disperse the seed.Spring Beauty claytonia virginica

Root

These plants grow from a corm/bulb that is also quite small.

Growing Conditions

This being a Spring Wildflower, it prefers partial shade which the forest readily provides.  Think about it – these early Spring flowers grow inside thick, tall canopy forests that only offer sunlight when there are no leaves on the trees.  So, bare tree trunks and limbs do great at providing this type of sunlight.

That being said, soils of forest also generally have lots of organic matter and are very loamy.  However, I have observed this plant growing in clay soil.  It tends to do well in soils that are moist to medium.  I’ve not seen it grow in dry soils.  This is probably due to the way the seeds germinate, as will be discussed in the next section.

A small patch of Spring Beauty flowers

Propagating Spring Beauty

Propagating by Seed

This is a rather difficult seed to germinate.  And I have to admit, I’ve not been successful.  The difficulty in germinating this seed is two-fold.

First, this seed cannot dry out.  If that occurs the seed is likely no longer viable, so you must be very careful when collecting the seeds.  And the seeds should be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to start stratification.

Second, and this is the part that is very difficult for a hobby gardener like myself, is that this seed needs two stratification periods.  It needs a cold/moist stratification period, followed by a warm moist stratification – each lasting 2-3 months.  Then the process must be repeated before the seed will germinate.  So in nature, in ideal conditions it will take two years before a Spring Beauty seed will germinate.

Spring Beauty Colony
A small colony of Spring Beauty wildflowers along a road, Claytonia Virginica

Propagating by Corm/bulb

This is the ‘easy’ way to get these plants into your yard.  What you need to do is find a patch of Spring Beauty, where you have permission to get some bulbs.  Then, go out and dig up the bulbs once the plant is dormant.  Then wrap them in a moist paper towel, and take them back to your home and plant them immediately (and REMEMBER where you planted them).  The plants should emerge and bloom the following Spring.

Spring Beauty Uses

This plant is a great flower for flower beds, backyard micro-prairies, woodland wildflower gardens, and border gardens.  If you have patience, you can start with a few plants, and perhaps in 4 years you get a mass planting.  It will provide great background color to accent Columbines, Blue False Indigo, or Virginia Blue Bells.  What is nice about this plant, is that you can just place it anywhere a gap exists in your flower bed.  Since it is small, doesn’t take up much space, and will be dormant by mid-summer, your flower bed will get its well-manicured look back.Spring Beauty Flower Bloom Claytonia Virginica

Edibility

Spring Beauty is edible.  Native Americans would use the corms medicinally for several issues.  Additionally, the roots could be boiled and eaten like a potato.  The main problem is, you would have to kill a whole lot of plants to make a single proper serving even for a side dish.  That is because the corms just aren’t that big.

And if you are trying to harvest this from the wild to make a salad, you may get one meal, but decimate a whole population of Spring Beauty in doing so.  So please don’t unless you are harvesting from ones you propagate yourself.

Fauna Associations

The flower of Spring Beauty is visited by many native bees, and flys.  In particular the Spring Beauty Andrena bee, which only pollinates this flower and one other species.  Small skipper butterflys also visit this flower.  Mice and chipmunks may dig up corms and eat them.

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