Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Native Species Profile - Spring Beauty

Within the next few weeks Spring will arrive in Mid-Michigan.  You can almost feel it in the air.  Buds on trees are swelling.  I saw an insect flying around in the woods today.  There was an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) singing in one of the Cottonwood trees outside the office this morning.  Every morning when we drive to work is lighter than the last.  Before long wildflowers will start blooming - the Skunk Cabbage has probably already started.

Another one of the earliest blooming wildflowers around Mid-Michigan is the Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

Spring Beauty flowers

Spring Beauty is a spring ephemeral wildflower of moist deciduous woods in eastern North America.  It completes its blooming cycle before the canopy trees have completed leafing out in the Spring.  As a result it only blooms for a few weeks at most.  In Mid-Michigan it typically begins blooming in early April and continues until mid-May.  I have seen it bloom as early as late March in sheltered southward facing micro-climates (such as tucked into the roots at the base of a tree).  Its grass-like leaves appear before the flower buds.  At full height the plant can reach up to 6 to 10 inches tall, but is usually shorter.  Sometimes the plant forms dense colonies that carpet sections of the forest floor.

A colony of Spring Beauty plants

The Spring Beauty flower has white or pale pink petals.  Each petal has a series of purple lines that radiate from the base of the petal. These lines act as "nectar guides" for bees and other pollinators.  Bees (and many other insects) have the capability to see ultraviolet light.  Under UV light these lines are like a signpost pointing the way to the available nectar.  The center of the flower is a pale yellow-green.  This contrasts with the pinkish petal and purple nectar guides to further advertise the location of nectar.  This feature is is found in many flowers that are pollinated primarily by bees.

Note the nectar guides pointing toward the nectaries at the flower center.

Often, because it blooms so early, Spring Beauty is the only major available nectar source for a period of up to two weeks.  As a result, it is visited by many pollinators from small ants, flies and bees up to bumblebee queens.

An ant nectars at Spring Beauty

A small bee drinking nectar

Basic Information 

Spring Beauty
Claytonia virginica

Height:  6 to 10 inches

Habitat:  moist deciduous woods, woodland clearings, roadsides

Flower Color:  White or pink, with pink to purple veins

Bloom Time:  April to mid-May

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