Spring Beauty is an erect native perennial spring ephemeral forb, growing only 3 to 6 inches high. Stems are rounded and arise from a tuber.
The leaves are of two types - a few basal leaves that are 8x as long as wide and taper to a stalk and then one opposite pair on the stem that are much shorter and not stalked. All are somewhat fleshy and have a central mid-vein.
The inflorescence is a loose terminal floppy raceme that is subtended by a small scale-like bract or more rarely 2+ bracts.
The flowers are individually stalked, about 1/2 inch wide, with 5 white petals that have fine pink candy stripes, 2 green to purplish sepals form the calyx which persist onto the seed capsule, 5 stamens with pink anthers that appear opposite the petals, and a 3-parted style. (Petals can sometimes be pinkish to rose.) Flowers close and nod in darkness and heavy clouds.
Seeds: Flowers are pollinated by insects and fertile flowers produce a ovoid seed capsule with several 2-3 mm shiny smooth black seeds which are expelled from the capsule when ripe. Seeds are difficult to germinate. They need a warm moist period followed by a cold period. This can be done manually by sealing them in a plastic bag with a sterile medium and keeping at 80 degrees F. for 60 to 90 days and then transferring to a cold environment (above freezing but below 40 degrees F) for another 60 to 90 days and then kept cold until planting. Seeds planted in the soil avoid all this but take a year to germinate. Easier to buy corms.
Habitat: Spring Beauty grows from a corm and fibrous roots, generally found in moist woods in rich soil, wet to mesic conditions. It is a spring ephemeral, so early sunlight prior to over-story leafout is needed and then dappled sunlight until the leaves die back by mid-summer. Dry spring weather and hot summers can wipe them out.
Names: The genus was named by Linnaeus after the early Virginia botanist and plant collector, John Clayton (1686-1773). Clayton sent many specimens and descriptions to Europe where his descriptions were included in the productions of others without his consent or acknowledgment. The species, virginica, means 'of Virginia' where Clayton observed the plant. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: There are a number of species assigned to the Claytonia genus, all known as Spring Beauty. In Minnesota you will only find one other, Carolina Spring Beauty, C. carolina, and that is very restricted in range, being found only in and near the Arrowhead. C. carolina is somewhat shorter and has leaves that are more elliptical rather than linear. See notes below.
Above: The inflorescence is a loose terminal cluster. The plant grows from a fibrous rooted corm.
Below: 1st photo - The five white petals have pink candy stripes. A stamen is located opposite each petal with a 3-parted style in the center. 2nd photo - Many of the leaves shown here are basal. The stem only has one opposite pair.
Notes: Eloise Butler introduced Virginia Spring Beauty to the Garden on a number of occasions in the early years starting in 1907 when on June 3rd, she transplanted a clump sourced near the Lake Street Bridge in Minneapolis. She planted more in 1910, '11, '12, '13 and '14. Martha Crone planted it in 1947, '53 and '56. It was listed on the 1951 and 1986 census. Gardener Cary George planted it again in 1993, 1994 and 2002, but those plants died back and Susan Wilkins replanted in 2005, but again had to replant and in 2016 were planted near the Shelter. Like many spring ephemerals, dry spring weather and hot summers can wipe them out. Virginia Spring Beauty is found in the eastern half of the U.S. except Florida and parts of New England. In Canada it is known in Ontario and Quebec. Within Minnesota it is found in counties on the east side of the state north of the metro area and in counties in the SE section south of the Metro. Within the metro area only Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Scott report the plant.
The other species in Minnesota, Carolina Spring Beauty was once planted in the Garden by Eloise Butler in 1912 with plants from Horsford's Nursery in Charlotte Vermont. However, the species has not been listed as present on any of the Garden census reports. It has a range in the eastern U.S. that partially overlaps Virginia Spring Beauty. In Minnesota it is listed as a plant of 'Special Concern' as most populations were thought to be within 30 miles of Lake Superior in the Arrowhead. The DNR has recently reported that more populations have been found in the Southern Superior Uplands and that the plant may be subject to de-listing.
Eloise Butler wrote in 1911: "The spring beauty is local, but it brightens large patches of low woodlands, which it chooses for an abiding place. Spring beauty of Minneapolis is a low, slender plant with narrow leaves which come from a dark brown triangular tuber imbedded in the earth. The flowers are dainty white bells striped with pink, and in masses thickly carpeting the earth are a joy to the eye". From her May 14, 1911 Newspaper Article.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"