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.