Astico County Park is just waking up after a seemingly unending winter. Just last week winter had its final hurrah, dumping about a foot of snow on us, causing late starts and school cancellations. Then, almost as quickly as the snow appeared, it left. Appropriately, the first wildflower I found blooming during my trip to Astico is the spring beauty.
A member of the purslane family, the spring beauty is one of the first spring ephemerals to appear. It is often found in deciduous woods, clearings, and thickets, and it is known to survive in areas that have suffered from land degradation. The flowers have five petals, giving it a star-shaped appearance. Petal color may vary from white to pink to lavender with pink veins, which may be bright or pale. There are two green sepals and five stamens with pink anthers. Spring beauties have simple grasslike leaves, which usually appear in pairs that are oppositely attached.
The spring beauty is a food source for insects as well as rodents, and it has been used by humans as well. I saw various bees and flies hopping from flower to flower during my Astico visit. The spring beauty, also known by the name fairy spud, has an edible corm about the size of a radish or small potato. Small rodents, such as the chipmunk, will eat the corm, and humans may eat and prepare the corm as they would a potato. The corm has been described as similar to a chestnut in taste. However, due to declining populations from overharvesting and land development, it’s best to leave this plant in the wild.