I’ve really never been a big fan of “common names” for plants, but every once in a while, one really hits the nail on the head. “Spring Beauty” is a resoundingly perfect tribute to Claytonia virginica, the earliest-of-the-early, ephemeral spring wildflowers.
Claytonia virginica is native to over half of the U.S. and to several provinces in Canada — read its USDA Plant Profile. It’s one of our most beloved harbingers of spring with its dark green, supple, almost succulent foliage and five petaled white flowers with soft pink veining. Claytonia virginica grows from a small, round perennial tuber and sets a good bit of seed, so a colony will appear before you know it. I find it useful as an early groundcover thanks to its diminutive height of 3 to 8 inches.
It’s really very easy to grow in sun or shade and looks lovely in the front of a perennial border or along a path in the woods. I’ve even seen it naturalized in people’s lawns and it’s also 100 percent deerproof, which is a great plus these days. The genus name is in honor of John Clayton (1694–1773) who was a colonial plant collector in Virginia. He was born in England and moved to Virginia with his father in 1715, where he lived in Gloucester County, exploring the region botanically.
Clayton sent many specimens, as well as manuscript descriptions, to Dutch botanist Jan Frederik Gronovius in the 1730s. Without Clayton’s knowledge, Gronovius used the material in his Flora Virginica (1739–1743, 2nd ed. 1762). Many of Clayton’s specimens were also studied by the European botanists Carl Linnaeus and George Clifford, and it was Linnaeus that gave the genus the name Claytonia. A very similar native species is Claytonia caroliniana. The two species are similar in habit and flower, the only difference being the foliage. Claytonia sibirica is another species of “Spring Beauty” that is less ephemeral and will also seed around gently to form a lovely colony.
The genus Claytonia is a member of the Portulacaceae family which is also home to the very popular annual Portulaca grandiflora. I’ve been building a good stock of Claytonia virginica to share with you and if your ground is still frozen, not to worry, as you can specify the shipping date for your particular area in a provided space on our online PDF orderform.
Barry Glick founded Sunshine Farm & Gardens in 1972 on 60 acres in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His plant collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at arboretums, botanic gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world. Peruse Barry’s speakers series here and read the rave reviews here. If you have any questions, would like to chat about any plants that Barry offers, send an email to his personal email address. Read all of Barry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.
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