CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Harbinger of spring

Posted by Linda McMulkin, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

Each plant lover probably has that one plant species that says “Finally, spring is here”.  It may be forsythia or crocus or red-stem filaree or any number of other plants.  For me, the plant that cries spring the loudest is our foothills native, Claytonia rosea, or spring beauty. 

Spring beauty is a close relative of moss rose and purslane, all members of the Portulacaceae family.  Unlike its relatives, spring beauty blooms early, sometimes as early as late January in parts of Pueblo County.  The tiny plants grow from a small corm with the above ground parts consisting of one or two basal leaves, a pair of stem leaves, and four or five white to pink blossoms.  A synonym, Claytonia lanceolata, describes the strap-like shape of the leaves.  The plant reproduces by seed and corm offshoots.  Spring beauty will grow in dry, rocky soil, but thrives in the moisture found under needle litter. 
Spring beauty are a common part of the Ponderosa pine forest, but since they bloom so early, I often miss their short season.  I’d been looking for them in the Pueblo County foothills for the past 6 weeks and finally found a few  growing under mountain mahogany on the side of a gorge near Colorado City, about 20 miles south of Pueblo.  I was pleased to find it for the first time in several years.  Little did I know the treat that awaited me closer to home.

The flower of Claytonia rosea has 5 white to pink petals, often with darker veins, 5 stamens and a 3 styled pistil. 
I moved from the prairie to the foothills this winter and intend to spend the summer learning what I have before making changes in the yard.  While I’ve been waiting for spring growth, I picked up some ponderosa cones to use in a new insect hotel, pulled some noxious weeds growing in the front yard, and cut down some encroaching scrub oak.  But I resisted the urge to do more than walk across the layer of oak leaves and pine needles in the back yard. 

The pay off for my neglect came last week, when a carpet of spring beauty opened in the needle litter.  Typically the blossoms open after I leave for work in the morning, but this weekend I got to enjoy the view.  I took pictures from the deck, standing on the edge of the carpet, and laying flat on the ground in the sun with pine cones poking me in the ribs. So much fun!

The back yard slopes a bit, so I was looking uphill through hundreds of tiny blossoms.   
The Colorado Plant Database reports that Native Americans ate the corms, which taste like
water chestnuts  when fresh and like potatoes when boiled.  That's a lot of gathering for a meal! 

I’ve seen my personal harbinger of spring and expect that there are other treasures and surprises in store for me in my new yard.  And I know now what I’ll do with that section of the back yard-nothing.  Nature planted a garden that I can never beat.



  1. What a great sign of they are so pretty!

  2. One of my favorites! I saw them on Dinosaur ridge on March 9th. I wonder what other lovelies you'll find in that spot as spring progresses?