Claytonia virginica L.

Spring Beauty

Claytonia virginica plant

Family - Portulacaceae

Habit - Perennial forb with a globose, brown, tuberous rootstock, this 8-20 mm in diameter and usually deeply positioned. Sometimes classified as a springtime ephemeral.

Stems - Loosely ascending to erect, 1 to several, 5-20 cm long, usually well-developed, sometimes sprawling, glabrous, often reddish in fruit.

Claytonia_virginica_stem.jpgStem and node.

Claytonia_virginica_tuber.jpgTuber.

Leaves - Basal and a single opposite pair along the stems, glabrous. Basal leaves 1 or few, 6-20 cm long, the blade relatively thick, linear to narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly elliptic (rarely broader), angled or tapered to a sharply pointed tip, long-tapered to an indistinct, short to long petiole, green to dark green, sometimes reddish-tinged. Stem leaves 4-15 cm long, sessile or with a short, indistinct petiole, the blade relatively thick, linear to narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly elliptic, occasionally broader, angled or tapered to a sharply pointed tip, long-tapered at the base.

Claytonia_virginica_leaf1.jpgLeaf1.

Inflorescence - Terminal, solitary racemes 4-18 cm long, short- to long-stalked, with 5-18 flowers, all tending to be oriented to a single side of the axis, only the basal 1-2 flower(s) subtended by a membranous to herbaceous bract, this 2-9 mm long, narrowly lanceolate to ovate, more or less sheathing the axis.

Claytonia_virginica_inflorescence.jpgInflorescence.

Flowers - Relatively long-stalked, the stalk continuing to elongate after flowering, hypogynous Calyces 5-7 mm long, the sepals overlapping, persistent at fruiting, remaining ascending after flowering. Petals 5, 7-14 mm long, white or pinkish-tinged, usually with pink venation, withering after flowering. Stamens 5, the anthers pink. Ovary superior, the style 3-branched above the midpoint.

Claytonia_virginica_calyces.jpgCalyces.

Claytonia_virginica_corolla.jpgCorolla.

Claytonia_virginica_corolla2.jpgFlowers.

Claytonia_virginica_stamens.jpgStamens.

Flowering - February - May.

Habitat - Forests, prairies, bluffs and ledges, pastures, lawns.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Distantly, Thalictrum thalictroides, Hepatica.

Other info. - This delightful springtime ephemeral is very common across Missouri and the eastern half of the U.S., and also ranges into Canada. It is easily recognized with its characteristic flowers and single pair of strap-like stem leaves. The corolla color is quite variable, with some being nearly white with invisible venation, ranging to specimens with highly pronounced pink venation.

The leaf width of the plants is also variable, and for a time it was believed that a discrete species with wide leaves existed in some southern areas of the state. These plants, which were named C. ozarkana, were later determined to be simple phenotypic variants of C. virginica. However, a wider-leafed species named C. arkansana does exist just to our south, and is currently considered to be endemic to Arkansas. It grows in sandstone bluff crevices, and is differentiated by having wider leaves, the basalmost 3 or more flowers subtended by small bracts, and distinctly petiolate basal leaves.

Both the leaves and basal tuber of spring beauty are edible and reasonably tasty. But because of the large number required to provide any significant amount of food, they are probably best left in the ground for all to enjoy.

Photographs taken at Weldon Spring Conservation Area, St. Charles County, MO, 4-6-2011 and 3-22-2016, and Engelmann Woods Natural Area, Franklin County, MO, 4-19-2014 (SRTurner).



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