Plants Don’t Read the Rules

My latest plant is something of a maverick. Meet Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty.

They more than deserve their name. They flower in the spring at the same time as—and frequently together with—bluets. Where you find one, you usually find hundreds, if not thousands.

Mt. Cuba Center | Virginia Spring-Beauty - Mt. Cuba Center

Look at those hot pink stripes! The flowers can be white or pale pink, but the petals are marked with that great pink that is so commonly found in plants in the group that used to be called the Caryophyllidae. This group has betalain pigments for pink and red, rather than the more common anthocyanins–think prickly pear fruits, beets, rhubarb stems, etc. The two sepals and the stems are often pink as well. The flowers nod before and after blooming.

The plants are low-growing, with narrow, grass-like leaves. Each one grows from a roundish corm that lies deeply buried at the bottom of a very slender stem. It is a real challenge to collect a whole plant as a scientific specimen, since the stem breaks if you even look at it funny. On older plants the corms can be several centimeters across–and they’re edible! In fact, the other common name for this plant is “fairy spuds.”

The other characteristic that makes this plant a nonconformist is that it doesn’t seem to care how many chromosomes it has. There are reliable counts of 2n= anywhere from 12 to 191. Extra set or two or ten? No problem! Lose one somewhere? Doesn’t matter. Plants are much more tolerant of having their genetic material disturbed than animals are. All of this variation can be reflected in how the plant looks. Extra petals are not unheard of.

I drew two plants, one with white flowers and a green stem and one with pale pink flowers and pink-flushed stem and sepals.

This is how they charted up.

In a symbol chart with colored backstitch, things get very wild very quickly!

The program doesn’t show very thin backstitch lines very well in chart view, but this is how they might look stitched.

I may, when it comes to stitch them up, shorten the internodes–the distances between the leaves, because the plants are often a bit more compact. A close-up shows how they might look with colored anthers and the veins a more reasonable width.

I’m reasonably happy with these. I don’t know how Gerda-ish they are. Her designs didn’t include much backstitching, and I don’t believe she ever called for a French knot. But you can’t have spring beauties without stripes!

Soon it will be spring beauty time for real! I can’t wait to find a patch, plop myself down, and bury my nose in their sweet-scented glory.