Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Western Spring Beauty

Western spring beauty (c) John Ashley
Western spring beauties in bloom this week
After a hungry, monochrome winter, perusing Montana's meadows of spring greens and reds feels like a guilty indulgence -- like eating a party-size bag of M&M's in one sitting. I feel a bit of relief when modest white flowers show up in the middle of so much stimulation. Western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) is just what the doctor ordered to soothe my visual gluttony.

White patches of spring beauty bloom in soil that's still moist, in shady spots where lingering patches of snow have just recently surrendered. The plants are only 4-10" tall, and their individual flowers are similar in size to your fingernails, but they show up by the hundreds when the time is right. Such a display of delicacy so early in summer is reassuring when you live in a habitat that's snow-packed for much of the year.

Folks around here like to say that you can't eat the scenery, but some do. Spring beauty corms, or roots, are dug up and eaten by black and grizzly bears -- a culinary habit shared by native peoples, early settlers, and the occasional hungry hiker. The latter report these corms tasting like raw potatoes, mild radishes, or maybe chestnuts. Fortunately, I've never been gastronomically distressed enough to dig up something so visually soothing. But, like M&Ms, I reserve the right to indulge.