Spring Royalty

Queen Elizabeth I Portrait from WikipediaI’m always curious about the origins of words.  I was surprised a few months back to discover that Virginia and West Virginia were named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, referred to as the Virgin Queen because she never married.  Today I learned that North and South Carolina are named after King Charles I of England.

Charles I Portrait from Wikipedia

You can learn more about the etymology of U.S. State names by clicking here.

But that is not what this post is about!  It’s about Spring Beauties, two species of which can be found around here in Western New York.

 Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana have similar range maps covering a good chunk of the eastern side of North America – including a few states west of the Mississippi.  Perhaps when they were originally discovered, the former was found in the area named in honor of the Queen and the latter in an area named in honor of the King?  I don’t really know.

Claytonia virginica Claytonia caroliniana
Claytonia virginica – left; Claytonia caroliniana – right.

“What’s the difference?” you may well ask!   “And how do you remember?”

Well, I’ll tell you, but be warned… my brain has twisted ways of remembering things.  The flower on the left is C. virginica.  Notice the slender, paired leaves.  These narrow straight leaves form the letter V where they meet the stem, as in V-irginica.  OK, technically, the leaves on C. caroliniana also form a V, but read on…  The flower on the right is C. caroliniana.  Notice the more rounded leaf below… dark and out-of-focus though it is.  This leaf is rounder, like the o in car-O-liniana.

The photos above were taken last spring.  On Sunday when I was out, I found only buds…  and I didn’t get the right angle on this photo to tell which variety.  I bet by today or tomorrow, there will be blooms!
Wow - That's a Lot of Buds

For whatever reasons, eastern field guides call the Queen’s flower Spring Beauty leaving out any reference to Virginia.  The King’s flower, however is called Carolina Spring Beauty.  Newcomb’s claims that both varieties inhabit “moist woods.”  Peterson’s says that Spring Beauty (C. virginica) is found in “moist woods” and that Carolina Spring Beauty (C. caroliniana) is found in “woods and uplands.”  Whatever…

1753 Spring Beauty Herbarium Sheet by John Clayton


And what about their first name, Claytonia?  That came from John Clayton (1694-1773), an early collector of plant specimens in North America.

There are 28 species of Spring Beauties continent-wide.  If you don’t live in the virginica-caroliniana range, fear not.  Click here for information on a species near you!

9 thoughts on “Spring Royalty

  1. An interesting post and great photos of a beautiful little flower! Thanks for the link! I will keep looking for these here.

  2. I just watched the popular movie “Elizabeth” a few days ago, which is about Elizabeth I. and it’s a pretty good depiction of the times. The movie alludes to the naming of Virginia after her. It was a slow movie, but charming in its own way. I recommend you watch it.

  3. I just wanted to say I have been enjoying your posts about wildflowers. Wanting to learn more about them you have been a great resource. thank you

  4. Wow, I didn’t know there were two different spring beauties. I believe we only have the Virginia one but now that I know, I will check closer with the leaves. Thanks for the information on them.

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