Whenever the snow is melting into a fresh new season in the forests around Kimberley, keep a sharp lookout for the Western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). Among the first wildflowers to appear each year, patches of spring beauties help brighten the landscape after the long winter months. But look quickly – they don’t last long.
Found mostly in wetter areas in loose clusters of up to 20 flowers, each tiny white plant has a few basal lance-shaped leaves and five delicate petals lined with distinctive red veins. The flowering stalks can rise as high as 20 cm.
Pairs of stalkless leaves are sources of Vitamin A and C, and below ground small corms (rounded storage organs) are a source of carbohydrates. When collected and cooked shortly after flowering, the corms taste much like potatoes. Disturbed spring beauty patches are a sign of foraging grizzlies and rodents, who also appreciate the nutritional value of corms, while ungulates mostly value the flowers and leaves.
Western spring beauties are classed as spring ephemerals – perennial plants that develop stems, leaves and flowers early each spring to take advantage of the plentiful moisture, nutrients and sunlight. After flowering, they quickly go to seed and die back to their underground corms for the remainder of the year.
Look sharp when the snow starts leaving the frozen ground, or you will miss the fleeting pleasure of seeing the beautiful but short-lived spring beauty.
Thanks to the Kimberley Nature Park Society for helping share information about our local flora and fauna.