Spring Beauty; Claytonia – Flowers

(Claytonia Virginica) Purslane family.

Flowers—White veined with pink, or all pink, the veinings of deeper shade, on curving, slender pedicels, several borne in a terminal loose raceme, the flowers mostly turned one way (secund). Calyx of 2 ovate sepals; corolla of 5 petals slightly united. by their bases; 5 stamens, 1 inserted on base of each petal; the style 3-cleft. Stem: Weak, 6 to 12 in. long, from a deep, tuberous root. Leaves : Opposite above, linear to lance-shaped, shorter than basal ones, which are 3 to 7 in. long; breadth variable.

Preferred Habitat—Moist woods, open groves, low meadows. Flowering Season—March—May.

Distribution—Nova Scotia and far westward, south to Georgia and Texas.

Dainty clusters of these delicate, starry blossoms, mostly turned in one direction, expand in the sunshine only, like their gaudy cousin the portulaca and the insignificant little yellow flowers of another relative, the ubiquitous, invincible ” pussley ” immortalized in ” My Summer in a Garden.” At night and during cloudy, stormy weather, when their benefactors are not flying, the claytonias economically close their petals to protect nectar and pollen from rain and pilferers. Pick them, the whole plant droops, and the blossoms close with indignation; nor will any coaxing but a combination of hot water and sunshine induce them to open again. Theirs is a long beauty sleep. They are supersensitive exquisites, however hardy.

Very early in the spring a race is run with the hepatica, arbutus, adder’s tongue, blood-root, squirrel corn, and anemone for the honor of being the earliest wild flower; and although John Burroughs and Dr. Abbott have had the exceptional experience of finding the claytonia even before the hepatica—certainly the earliest spring blossom worthy the name in the Middle and New England States—of course the rank skunk-cabbage, whose name is snobbishly excluded from the list of fair competitors, has quietly opened dozens of minute florets in its incurved horn before the others have even started.

Whether the petals of the spring beauty are white or pink, they are always exquisitely marked with pink lines converging near the base and ending in a yellow blotch to serve as pathfinders for the female bumblebees and the little brown bombylius, among other pollen carriers. A newly opened flower, with its stamens surrounding the pistil, must be in peril of self-fertilization one would think who did not notice that when the pollen is in condition for removal by the bees and flies, the stigmatic surfaces of the three-cleft style are tightly pressed together that not a grain may touch them. But when the anthers have shed their pollen, and the filaments have spread outward and away from the pistil, the three stigmatic arms branch out to receive the fertilizing dust carried from younger flowers by their busy friends.