Wednesday, April 14, 2010

SPRING'S PETITE TREAT


Spring beauty…



I think the name says it all. This little wildflower is beautiful. Not in some gaudy sort of way—but rather in quiet grace, like the sweet words of an old love poems whispered softly amid the April woods.

Beauty, indeed…but beauty perhaps seldom appreciated by casual amblers. For to truly see and thus realize the subtle colors and fine design of this miniature jewel, you must get close—bending low, or better still, getting down on your knees, in intimate contact with damp leaves and tender new grass and where, as you lean and focus, you catch a whiff of the rich earth and vernal energy that produced this comely treasure.


The spring beauty's five white petals are etched with lines that radiate from their base. "Bee guides" they're sometimes called, as some think their purpose is to point pollinating insects to the nectar found in the corolla cup at the bloom's center. These lines may be pink or violet or a shade that's somewhere between purple and magenta—pale in tone, pastel, or deeply colored. Sometimes the petals are simple a pure white with lines lacking in color, but visible only in a light gray; alternately, the color can be so intense that the background hue of the petal itself is pink or violet. Mostly, though—unless you make that close examination—a handful of spring beauties tucked among the leaves and greening stems beside a trail, will simply appear a washed-out pink. You have to really look to understand what you're seeing.


Spring beauties are not only lovely to look at—they're also good to eat. Delicious, in fact. The tasty part is the corm, the bulb-like underground portion of the root system which looks like a tiny spud. For this reason, spring beauties have been called "fairy potatoes," though it takes quite a few to make a meal. They do taste much like a potato, however, except sweeter and more nutty. And while this information might be handy to know the next time you're stranded and starving in the woods, I prefer to buy my potatoes at the grocery and leave these diminutive versions to produce their exquisite little flowers for my visual dessert.


Here in Ohio, as throughout most of the Great Lakes, East, Southern Appalachians and Midwest, we have two species of spring beauty—Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana…which differ chiefly in the shape of their leaves. The leaves of the Carolina spring beauty are wider and more rounded, while those of the Virginia (generally simply called "spring beauty") are longer and quite slender, almost like a blade of grass.

Spring beauties are common. So common, in fact, they're quickly overlooked by all but the most avid wildflowers enthusiasts. Yet no matter how often I see these little wildflowers shining brightly among emerald grass, carpeting the ground beneath a stately beech, or glowing like tiny beacons in an upland woods, I have to stop and look, admire…delight. Pink, petite, pretty—and the personification of the season.


Spring beauty…the name says it all; the rest is up to you.
———————

18 comments:

George McHenry said...

This was a truly beautiful posting on the spring beauties. Thoughtful and well-written by a committed naturalist with clear vision. I've been inspired by your postings, which I now follow. As you might discern from my own new blog at transit-notes.blogspot.com, learning how to see clearly is one of my favorite topics.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

First off, welcome to the riverbank—and please do stop by for a visit and comment whenever you wish.

Seeing clearly—with the mind, heart, and eyes—as opposed to just looking, is a special point with me, too. There's a pro-active approach to actually seeing; the first step in observation and understanding. To "see" clearly is to discern, and that was the point to much of this post re. spring beauties. They are simply exquisite little flowers of singular color and form—the quintessential spring blossom.

Gail said...

HI GRIZ-

Looks like you and George summed up quite nicely the value and glory of really "seeing" which is more than the view. Vision is total - involves all our senses, memories, experiences, hopes and mood at the moment.
Great post about "Spring beauties " and SO much more.

Love Gail
peace.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

George did, indeed, "get it right," and I merely concurred. You're exactly right, too…seeing is more than the view. Much more. An immersive experience.

Hope you're doing well and enjoying spring. It's supposed to be in the low-80s here today, rain tomorrow, then temperatures down to the 50s daytime through the weekend. Sunny, though…

Wanda said...

Spring Beauties carpet the yard, no mowing is done until they disappear.
You captured their specialness in the second and third photos so well. Makes me want to try for similar images. I learned here today, that my yard and woods are full of "fairy potatoes!" My granddaughter, Alivia will love knowing that.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I have no spring beauties here (though I'm going to transplant a few corms after the blooming season) to go with my bloodroot and Dutchmen's breeches. However, I don't have to go far up the road to find them.

Hey, I don't blame you for not mowing…I'd do the same. One of these days, seeing as how you have an abundance, you need to dig a few handfuls of these little "fairy potatoes" and boil them for a special treat for Alivia and yourself—just this once. They're quite tasty with just a bit of salt and pepper and a dab of butter. Do them as you would smashed potatoes (shorter cook time, of course), which gives you their best full flavor. You might be able to find them growing along a cut bank down in your ravine—corms exposed already—where you know they're going to get washed away sooner or later, or along the edge of a roadway. But I'll bet your granddaughter would really get a kick out of them…and maybe you, too.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

A lovely post. Your posts are not only delightful but also so informative. So glad to now know more about Spring Beauties.

Seems to me that so much of what you 'receive' and give is because you have a gift for paying attention. Paying attention is an act of love - a crucial one.

Apart from a serendipitous surprise, the only way to perceive the beauty in the usually overlooked, is to pay attention.

Attention paid on every level is what brings me back to your blog.

Wanda said...

Guess what I'm going to be doing in a few minutes...since there are thousands here, even in the flower beds, a few missing won't endanger them at all. I'm trusting you!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Well, I expect you're right in that I've paid attention to things I loved, that hold my interest, move me in some pleasurable way. I think real intimacy on all levels is an act of paying attention. You love something, desire to know more, want to understand and share it that positive power you feel therein…and so you pay attention. Makes perfect sense to me. :-)

I'm glad you return to this blog for those reasons…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

So long as you can recognize a spring beauty—and I have absolutely no doubt you can—you'll have no problem. I've eaten them many times, and there's scarcely a wild-foods book (and more than a few wildflower books) that mentions their edibility.

Let me know what you think…providing you can write afterwards. (just kidding!)

Wanda said...

Those 'fairy potatoes' were fairly deep and tasted fairly good, but were a little earthy. They really ranged in size and did look like miniature potatoes, I took photos for my next post!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

"Fairly deep" and "fairly good," eh? You know, it may be because they're now in bloom—but the ones I've had were really more sweet and nutty flavored than potatoes, not what I'd call "earthy." But I used to gather them along a steep-banked holler on a friend's farm. There was a little seasonal creek ran down through the middle, and the spring beauty "potatoes" would be exposed by probably the thousands. I could literally scoop out a gallon in a minute; or a bushel in five minutes if I'd have been so inclined. But I don't believe I ever collected them when the flowers were actually in bloom.

Course…it could be just my hillbilly "if it ain't movin' too much—eat it!" attitude toward victuals. I grew up eatin' things out of a tote sack.

Bernie said...

Spring Beauty....well named. I think I'll enjoy their beauty in the ground but I found all you have told us very interesting Grizz........:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I imagine you have spring beauties where you live—though I think they're another species. But take them however you please—just enjoy them!

The Solitary Walker said...

That's interesting - I found a dense swathe of spring beauties the other day completely covering a low embankment in the shade of a hedge. I don't think they're quite as common here in the UK as in the US. We have sandy soil round here (on the wide alluvial plain of the river Trent) which is,I read, the conditions they prefer.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

There are a number of species of this plant; two around here, others in the northwest and western part of the U.S. You may have a different one still. The spring beauties locally like rich soil in shade or partial shade…typical upland woods. Pretty no matter where you find them, though.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Another lovely post and informative "text"...amazing what getting closer brings to light!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

Often, to really see something, you have to look close—to focus your attention and vision. That's what I wanted to do with this post.