Claytonia virginica grows from a small, round perennial tuber and sets a good bit of seed so a colony will appear before you know it. I find it useful as an early groundcover thanks to its diminutive height of 3″ – 8″. It’s really very easy to grow in sun or shade and looks lovely in the front of a perennial border or along a path in the woods.
The genus name is in honor of John Clayton (1694–1773) who was a colonial plant collector in Virginia. He was born in England and moved to Virginia with his father in 1715, where he lived in Gloucester County, exploring the region botanically. Clayton sent many specimens, as well as manuscript descriptions, to Dutch botanist Jan Frederik Gronovius in the 1730’s. Without Clayton’s knowledge, Gronovius used the material in his Flora Virginica (1739–1743, 2nd ed. 1762). Many of Clayton’s specimens were also studied by the European botanists Carl Linnaeus and George Clifford and it was Linnaeus that gave the genus the name Claytonia.
A very similar native species is Claytonia caroliniana The two species are similar in habit and flower, the only difference being the foliage.
Claytonia sibirica is another species of “Spring Beauty” that is less ephemeral and will also seed around gently to form a lovely colony.
The genus Claytonia is a member of the Portulacaceae family which is also home to the very popular annual Portulaca grandiflora.