Fairy Spud (or Spring Beauty)
Origin: Eastern North America
Improvement status: Wild
Seeds per packet: ~50
BOTANICAL SAMPLE - NOT GERMINATION TESTED
Life cycle: Perennial
We first learned about this charming little plant from Euell Gibbon's famous book "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," and it became one of the first wild plants Nate started foraging for as a teenager. It's pretty easy to find, and it has no real lookalikes, so it's a pretty safe plant to forage for. But if you don't have any growing nearby, or you want more, the best thing to do is grow some for yourself!
A close relative of "Miner's Lettuce," the leaves of this perennial understory plant are slightly succulent and quite tasty, but there's not much to them. The real prize with this plant, as indicated by its whimsical name, is the underground tuber, which rarely gets larger than an inch in diameter (truly a spud for fairies!). A spring ephemeral, as its other common name indicates, fairy spuds flower in profusion in damp, partly shady woodlands and the edges of wetlands. You might find even them growing in a city park (they're all over Fairmount Park in Philadelphia). The stems are slender and flimsy, but somehow also quite strong, since they often emerge through densely packed soil and many layers of leaf litter. You don't get a real sense for how truly strong the plant is until you go digging for the tubers, and realize what a journey they've gone on to get to the surface.
Fairy spuds begin flowering quite early, not long after the snow melts, which makes them an important source of nectar and pollen for a range of pollinators, including honey bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, mason bees, cuckoo bees, Halictid bees, and Andrenid bees. There is even a tiny bee that's evolved to only feed on this flower during the short window when they're in bloom! The flower color is pale pink or white from a distance, but a closer look reveals five white petals striped with pink.
Our seed comes from the good folks at Prairie Moon Nursery.
GROWING TIPS: The biggest challenge with this species is germination. Seeds have double dormancy, so they need to go through a period of warm, moist stratification, followed by cold, moist stratification. You can mimic this natural pattern by putting seeds into a slightly moist sterile growing medium and keeping them somewhere warm for 60 to 90 days, then moving them to the fridge, for 60 to 90 days, or you can plant the seeds in early spring and just keep on eye out for them over the next year or two. If you won't be planting the seeds right away, we recommend storing them in the refridgerator until you plant them or begin pre-treatment procedures.