You know what happens when you look at something closely? This white-appearing flower from my height turned out to have pink-magenta stripes when I began to inspect it in Lightroom. Imagine my surprise! A member of the purslane family, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says of this tiny little flower that First Nations people and colonists use the small tuber root for food. It has a sweet, chestnut-like flavor. Apparently, fairies also used it as a potato, as one of its common names is fairy spud.
It was named for John Clayton, an early Virginia naturalist. Clayton authored Flora Virginica, a colonial-era manual of Virginia plants. Initially, the plant was in the purslane family, but more recent DNA evidence moved it to the Miner’s lettuce family (Marion Blois Lobstein, Prince William Wildflower Society). A mature plant can reach 6-10 inches in height, so I need to get out there and see how it looks today! Lobstein further reports the underground corms (the tuber part) stores energy for the next spring’s development of the above ground portions. The flower buds are formed in the fall under the leaves that fall and they emerge in the spring. Is that not proof of the incredible qualities of the ecosystem? Just think, back in February under all that ice and snow, covered by those decaying leaves from fall, flower buds were already waiting to emerge!
The tiny plant is of special value to native bees as a food, and supports biological control as it “attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that prey on pest insects” (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). And if that was not amazing enough, consider this:
There are five stamens with pink anthers and pink filaments. The filaments reflect ultraviolet radiation which insect pollinators can see. The pistil has a superior ovary and a three-cleft style. The first day the flower opens, its stamens are functional and release pollen. The next day–and up to seven more days–the pistil is receptive to pollen. During this period the stamens bend the anthers back against the petals.
The ultraviolet reflecting filaments that are also bent back may act as nectar lines to guide the insect pollinators down to the nectary glands at the base of each petal. The nectar production os spring beauty is very generous. at least 23 different species of native bees, bumblebees, honeybees, and syrphid flies have been observed visiting spring beauty flowers.Marion Blois Lobstein
Take one more look at those tiny little mechanisms in the center of that tiny little flower that play such an important role in the ecosystem: