Fairy Spuds :) Claytonia virginica ~ Edible Spring Wildflowers
Claytonia virginica (L.), the Eastern spring beauty, Virginia spring beauty, or fairy spud, is an herbaceous perennial in the family Portulacaceae. Its native range is Eastern North America. Its scientific name honors Colonial Virginia botanist John Clayton (1694–1773).
Spring beauty is found in the Eastern temperate deciduous forest of North America. It is noted for its abundance throughout many parts of its range, especially in forests. The plant can be found throughout many different habitat types including lawns, city parks, forests, roadsides, wetlands, bluffs, and ravines.
This plant has been used medicinally by the Iroquois, who would give a cold infusion or decoction of the powdered roots to children suffering from convulsions. They would also eat the raw roots, believing that they permanently prevented conception. They would also eat the roots as food, as would the Algonquin people, who cooked them like potatoes. Spring beauty corms along with the entire above ground portion of the plant are safe for human consumption.
Our most widely distributed early spring flower. Flower stalks bear several flowers branching from the main stem; flowers with 2 sepals that fall off as the flower opens; 5 petals, white (sometimes pink) with distinct pink veining; 5 pink stamens. Blooms February–May. Leaves 1 or 2 basal and 1 opposite pair on stems, narrow, lanceolate, tapering to a sessile base, dark green, sometimes purplish, fleshy. Root a rounded corm.
Height: about 5 inches during flowering; about twice that tall later.
Habitat and conservation:
Found, often in abundance, in open woods, fields, valleys, suburban lawns, and sometimes rocky ledges. This species is also called the Virginia spring beauty, picking up on the scientific name, as well as “fairy spud,” for the edible corms, which resemble tiny potatoes.
Distribution in Missouri:
This well-named plant provides a bounty of beauty in the woods as well as in open areas and yards. The potato-like corms (“fairy spuds”) and the leaves are edible, and naturally Native Americans knew this well before today’s wild-foods enthusiasts.
This and other tender plants that emerge in early spring provide a welcome dietary boost for many animals, from insects to birds to mammals. Other plants in the purslane family include the garden favorite “moss rose,” and the bitterroot flower of the Rocky Mountains.
Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight during the spring, moist to slightly dry conditions, and a rich loamy soil with abundant organic matter. This wildflower will adapt to semi-shaded areas of lawns if mowing is delayed during the spring. Both the flowers and foliage fade away by mid-summer. The easy way to start plants is by obtaining their corms, although these are expensive to buy from nurseries.
Range & Habitat: The native Spring Beauty is a common wildflower that occurs in every county of Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to dry deciduous woodlands, savannas, thinly wooded bluffs, city parks, old cemeteries, and lawns (particularly near trees). Less often, this species is found in mesic prairies, but it is primarily a woodland plant. Spring Beauty can survive more environmental degradation than most spring-blooming woodland species, including occasional grazing by cattle and partial clearing of trees. This is one reason why it is still common.
The Spring Beauty, also Springbeauty, is a longtime standard for foragers. They are abundant in some areas, rare in others. Thus forage with some local consideration. True to its name the attractive wild flower is a sign of spring and easy to recognize from other spring blossoms. The white to pink petals have pink stripes, sometimes pale, sometimes bright, but pink stripes nonetheless. Each blossom also only has two sepals (leaves right under the blossom.) Lower leaves are strap-like varying in size and width. The plant grows small roots that remind people of tiny potatoes, hence the nickname “Fairy Spuds.” At least one botanist said you can eat them “but their small size makes this rather impractical.” Famous forager Euell Gibbons clearly would disagree.