Species of the Week
Number 31 --
March 12, 2007
In the Species of the Week feature of the Wildwood Web we took a close look
at one of the species that lives in Wildwood. To see the earlier featured species check the Species
of the Week archives.
Spring beauty is one of the spring-blooming plants known as spring
ephemerals. These plants grow quickly from underground roots
in the early spring, flower, and produce seed, and often die back
again before the trees have leafed out. In this way, they are
able to take advantage of the brief period each year when the
deciduous woodlands are warm enough for growth and bright enough to
provide ample sunshine for photosynthesis. Few flowers bloom in the
deep woods in the summer and fall; there is just too little light
Spring beauty has flowers with three to five petals,
which are white, or pinkish, or rose, or, my favorite, white with
pink candy stripes. Several color variants can be seen in the
pictures. Some botanists argue that the petals are
actually sepals and the plant has no petals. The flowers close
at night and on cloudy days, but each flower lasts for several days.
The leaves, varying from green to purple, are long and narrow, tapering at both ends. The
plant grows up each spring from a deep tuber which stores the energy
from photosynthesis until the next spring.
Spring beauty favors wetlands, seeps, moist woods
prairies from New Hampshire to Ontario and Quebec, west to
Minnesota, south to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and
A very similar plant is the Carolina spring beauty,
Claytonia caroliniana, which differs in having spoon-shaped
leaves. The two plants appear to be closely related and are
believed to have separated evolutionarily rather recently.
Despite its name, Carolina spring beauty is a more northerly plant,
growing from Newfoundland and the Atlantic provinces of Canada west
to Minnesota, south through New England and New York and in the
mountains to Georgia and North Carolina.
The genus Claytonia is mostly a western
genus. There are 25 species in North America south to
Guatemala and in Russia. A twenty-sixth species occurs only in
the Altai Mountains of Siberia and Mongolia. Claytonia
perfoliata, of the western United States, is known as miner's
lettuce because its leaves were purportedly a staple of salads
consumed by miners attracted to the gold and silver deposits of the
west. It is still sold by seed companies for gardeners to
raise as a gourmet green. All members of the genus are noted
for producing a small white, oil-rich structure on their seeds
called an elaiosome, which serves as a bribe and reward to ants that
disperse the seeds. The ants carry the seeds away to new
locations, rip off the elaiosomes, and take them home to eat.
The ants in Wildwood must have been busy, for spring beauty can be
found over much of the western slope of the Park.