Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Virginia Spring Beauty

In the spirit of Spring, I am launching a new blog series. Each Wednesday I will focus on a different wildflower. 

The only thing I love more than wildflowers is telling people about them.

Just imagine for a moment that we are in the woods. Together we are walking down a trail into a lush, steep valley rich with the echoes of bird song and the hum of bees.

It is mid-March, and the forest floor is white - but not with snow, this time.

There is a fragrant carpet of modest white flowers, their petals streaked with little pink brushstrokes.

Spring Beauties come in two varieties, here in the southeast: the Virginia and the Carolina.

The Carolina Spring Beauty or Claytonia caroliniana, is a more northerly species which is occasionally found in the uplands of Tennessee. It can be distinguished by its wider leaf blades (or by the botanical term lanceolate-ovate, for those who wish to know).

The Virginia Spring Beauty or Claytonia virginica, is far more common, springing up in mesic forests, roadsides and lawns throughout the state (and across most of the country).

One of the earliest blooming wildflowers, it is a life-saving food source for early pollinators, as well as a welcome sight for the winter-weary person. Over 71 species of insect pollinators have been recorded visiting Spring Beauties, including huge quantities of native bees, making this an excellent plant to include in your gardens.

Grazers like deer, elk and sheep enjoy eating the tender flowers.

A little-known fact about Spring Beauties is that they can be a food source for us as well.

The little roots, called corms, can actually be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they taste somewhat like a radish; boiled, they are much like a potato. In fact, it is also known by the names "Wild Potato"  and "Fairy-spud" for this reason.
The corms are very high in starch and easily digested sugars, making them a great food source in times of need - especially considering they are found in such abundant stands. They have been gathered and consumed throughout North America by Native Americans, early explorers and settlers alike throughout the centuries.

If you are so inclined, here is a good resource on harvesting and preparing them. Just make sure you do so on land where you have permission, and leave plenty behind to bloom the following spring. And be prepared to dig up a lot - each corm is a mere 1/4 inch in diameter!

Like every plant, the Spring Beauty has also been useful for medicine, throughout history.

A poultice from the greens was used to treat everything from cuts and sores to eye ailments.

An infusion of the leaves could be used as a hair rinse to treat dandruff, and some tribeswomen would apply it to make their hair silky and shiny.

Other Native American tribes would make a gargle for sore throats and consume it as a urinary aid.

The most interesting use documented for this plant was by the Quinalt Indians, whose pregnant women would chew the whole plant so that their babies would be born soft. 

They are a fairly long-blooming flower; usually opening as early as mid-February and lasting through the month of April. Even so, they are overshadowed pretty quickly by a succession of taller wildflowers and ferns.

The forest canopy stays open just long enough to warm their blooms, and then the leaves draw their green curtain when it is time to go to sleep again until the following spring.

"Once we have been safely escorted from the season of darkness, spring beauty goes completely dormant until the next year, when its emergence reminds us that rebirth hastens." - Jan Midgely, All About Tennessee Wildflowers

When you step outside to enjoy a walk on that first warm, sunny spring day, be sure to give a nod to the Fairy Spud - they have waited all winter to greet you.

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower ->


Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart

Wildflowers of Tennessee - Jack B. Carman

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley


  1. I'm so excited that you are making this a series! I love the woods and the things that grow there but don't know a whole lot about them. Thank you for teaching us! :)

    1. I look forward to sharing. There aren't enough Wednesdays to cover them all!

  2. I love the series idea, too! I am wanting to learn more about wild plants, especially things that are good for wild foraging for additions to our meals. I know this is probably basic, but I actually just learned a few years ago how useful dandelion can be for people and animals. It was always considered a weed where I grew up, but now we love seeing their leaves and flowers appear. I don't think I've ever seen Spring Beauties, but I will be watching for them now for sure.

    1. Did you know you can batter and deep fry dandelion flowers and they taste "similar" to morel mushrooms? They are delicious! :)

    2. Dandelion is just about the healthiest vegetable you can eat! I have made the flower heads into fritters, and they were great! Tasted like spinach, actually.

    3. Ha! Goodwife, you beat me to it. :)

  3. I think your idea of a series is great! I love the idea of documenting what is blooming throughout the summer - I wonder if I could do that - but I have time to ponder that while I wait for snow to melt.

    My project shows a bit of my flower photography.

    1. I would love to see photos of your local wildflowers. :)

      Cool project too! Thanks for stopping by. :)

  4. What a pretty little thing! We have something similar to this here, but it's white. Now I'll have to identify it!

    Thanks for joining us for Green Thumb Thursday! I hope you'll link up again this week!