A member of the Purselane Family, western spring beauty is one of the first wildflowers to appear in the spring, often at the edge of snowbeds. These flowers were growing at the south end of Howard Prairie Reservoir (Jacksn County OR) in early May.
Western spring beauty is found in the states and provinces of the United States and Canada west of the Rockies, except for Arizona. This native perennial inhabits a broad ecological range from mid to high elevations, wherever the ground is moist in the spring.
A hairless, somewhat fleshy plant, western spring beauty arises from a deep corm. There are one to several stems per plant. Often the stems have a reddish hue.
Western spring beauty leaves are stalkless, entire, and lance shaped. One or two basal leaves whither before the plant blooms. Two opposite stem leaves are anchored at or slightly above the midpoint of the stem.
A few to several white to pink (sometimes yellow) flowers form a loose cluster atop the stem. The five notched western spring beauty petals often have pink veins. The flowers are stalked and have two sepals and five stamens.
Western spring beauty fruit is an egg-shaped capsule that opens into three segments and contains 3 to 6 shiny, black seeds.
All parts of the western spring beauty plant are edible. The leaves can be used as a salad or garnish. Native Americans ate the corms raw or cooked. For winter, they also stored the corms raw in underground caches or cooked the corms and dried them. Other than as an emergency food or for a taste, these small, delicate plants do not provide enough food to justify their demise.
John Clayton (1686 – 1773), a botanist who was one of the earliest botanical collectors, is honored by the genus, Claytonia. Clayton collected specimens mainly along the East Coast. The species name, lanceolata, is Latin and refers to the leaf shape.
Even when peeping out from the edge of a snowbed, the appearance of western spring beauty is a sure sign that winter is loosing its grip.