This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Root a deep tuber; stems six to ten inches long, simple; leaves mostly two, linear-lanceolate, an opposite pair near the middle of the stem, from three to nine inches in length; flowers pale red, with purple veins, usually six to twelve, or even fifteen, in a loose, simple, terminal raceme. (Darlington's Flora Cestrica. See also Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States, and Wood's Class-Booh of Botany.)
N the early part of the last century, when Linnaeus had just succeeded in reducing botany from a mass of confusion to something like order, the native flowers of our own country were beginning to attract the attention of the scientific men of Europe. The Dutch botanists had established close relationship with Americans, and as early as 1739 Gronovius published at Leyden a "Flora Virginica," the figures and descriptions for which were furnished by John Clayton, of Vir-ginia, who did wonders, for that early period, in making our native plants known. At the same time, John Bartram, farmer, physician, mechanic, and botanist, who lived in Pennsylvania, was in active correspondence with England, and sent roots and seeds to his friends there.
In view of the eminent services which Clayton rendered to American botany, it is very fitting that a genus so interesting and so peculiarly American as the one to which our plant belongs should have been named in his honor. Nor is there much clanger that the monument thus erected to Clayton's memory will ever be destroyed, as has been the case with so many similar monuments dedicated to other botanists, for the genus Claytonia is so distinct in character that there is little chance of its ever being merged in some other genus.
There are about twenty species of Claytonia known at present, according to the most recent enumeration, and these are chiefly natives of Northwestern America, or of Siberia. The whole order of Portidacaceae indeed, to which our genus belongs, has but few representatives in the European flora. At the time of Linnaeus only two species of Claytonia were known, - C. Sibirica, from Eastern Asia, and our American plant, the first acquaintance with which must have been a delightful surprise to Europeans. Certain it is that they took great pleasure in it after it had once been made known to them. Dr. Fothergill, in a letter written to John Bartram in 1772, boasted that he possessed what he believed to be the only plant of Claytonia Vircinica in "all England." Old Peter Collinson was before him, however, for in Darlington's "Memorials" we find a letter, dated April 10, 1767, in which he records the fact that his Claytonia had flowered on April 5.
Many tuberous-rooted plants produce new tubers every year, and the old ones die; in others, on the contrary, the tubers, as thickened root-stocks, live on from year to year, and continue to increase in size. We have had no opportunity, however, to ascertain the facts in the case of our plant, but as far as we have examined the roots, they seem to us to have very much the appearance of being perennial. They are usually very deep in the ground, and we dare say that, to many hundreds of those who go out to gather and admire wild flowers, we shall here be introducing the roots for the first time.
In English works we find the plant spoken of as the "Notch-petal'd Claytonia"; but in American works it is called "Spring-Beauty," with a unanimity quite unusual in the application of common names. It is certainly worthy of the name, for it is very beautiful, and although not the first to flower, it is yet among the earliest harbingers of spring, and gives a great charm to woods and shaded places in April and May. We gathered the specimen from which our drawing was made in the early part of May in a wood, where it grew in company with anemones, ranunculus, and other early plants.
The Spring-Beauty has not as yet succeeded in attracting the attention of philosophers, physicians, or economists. Its next of kin, however, the Common Purslane, is sometimes boiled and eaten; and it is said that the leaves of our plant can be served in the same way. The roots of the tuberous-rooted Siberian species are used as food; and perhaps those of our Spring-Beauty may be available for the same purpose. It might be worth while to select some of the larger roots, and try to improve them in size. In like manner the florist might improve the race in color by selection. The most common variety has purely white petals, but rosy shades are also abundant. Says Bryant, in allusion to the delicate color of our flower, "And the Spring Beauty boasts no tenderer streak Than the soft red on many a youthful cheek."
So deep a rose as that shown in our plate is not, however, often met with, and we selected this specimen more especially for the purpose of showing how much nature has already done, and as an encouragement for art to do more. Our plant also varies in other respects, according to the latitude in which it grows. Nuttall notices that the leaves become more spathulate on the right bank of the Ohio; and Don remarks that they become shorter and broader as we approach Alaska. When variations are found in nature, florists may always look upon them as hints to take up improvements where nature leaves off. The Alaskan form noticed by Don may, however, belong to a closely allied species, for the botanists have not as yet determined the exact geographical range of our own.
The flowers of Claytonia Virginica all turn in one direction on the flower-stalk, or, as botanists say, they are secund. They expand early in the morning, but close at night. If the flowers be closely watched in these movements, it will be seen that the anthers shed their pollen on the petals, and that, when the petals are drawn in at night, they brush against the stigma, and deposit on it the pollen received from the anthers. This would be regarded by some as an arrangement for insuring self-fertilization. On the other hand, Mr. Wheeler, in the "Botanical Gazette," reports that he has noticed a tendency to heteromor-phism, by which term botanists understand the occurrence of a variety of forms in the flowers of one and the same species. In some cases the pistils are proportionately longer, and in others shorter than the stamens; and in view of some experiments made by Mr. Darwin and others on primroses, this is believed to be an arrangement in favor of cross-fertilization. Hermann Muller believes that many flowers enjoy a double advantage in this respect, being so constructed that they can receive their own pollen, in case the supply, which they were originally intended to receive from another plant, should fail. It is not for us to say here whether these views - any or all of them are wholly unobjectionable. Our chief object in these pages is not to discuss theories, but to inform the reader of all that has been learned about the plants we introduce to him, and to direct his attention to matters which may be likely to interest him.
We have ourselves noticed that in some seasons only the two lower flowers mature seed, and the failure of the others to be reproductive may have some relation to the heteromorphic condition reported by Mr. Wheeler.
The specimen from which our drawing was made came from Pennsylvania.
1. Complete plant, with the bulb or corm.
2. Capsule, with a portion cut away, showing the position and small number of the seeds.
3. Vertical section of seed-vessel, showing its triangular form.
4. Mature seed.