With the arrival of spring later this month come all sorts of early-blooming wildflowers. Candyflower is tasty as well as pretty. It’s also known as Siberian springbeauty and its scientific name is Claytonia sibirica. You’ll find it growing throughout the Pacific Northwest, except for the driest counties east of the Cascades. Look for it in damp deciduous woods or at the edge of conifer forests. It likes a little shade, but not too much.
Candyflower is closely related to miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, which can also be found throughout most of the northwest. Both of these species are delicious spring greens. I like them raw, straight from the plant, and they’re a tasty addition to an early spring salad. Miner’s lettuce got its name because it was one of the few fresh spring greens in miner’s diets during the gold rush era.
Candyflower blossoms have five white petals, often with a couple of pink lines that help bees find the pollen-bearing anthers in the center. Each petal is ¼ to ½ inch long, so the whole flower is an inch across or less. The flowers are held above the leaves in open clusters.
The leaves are roughly egg-shaped. The ones near the ground have long petioles but the stem leaves are sessile, meaning they don’t have stalks.
In our lowland woods just outside Bellingham, candyflower is beginning to grow on March 1, but it will be a few weeks before we see any flowers.
According to some sources, Claytonia sibirica can be either an annual or a perennial. Given the right shady conditions it will self-seed and spread to form a nice groundcover. It may disappear mid-summer if the soil becomes too dry.
Although it’s a northwest native, my West Virginia gardening friend Barry Glick says it grows just fine in his garden. He wrote about Claytonia sibirica a while back.
Find more photos of candyflower on my Pacific Northwest Wildflowers website. It’s in the Washington Wildflowers smartphone app, too.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you’re harvesting a wild plant for food make sure you identify it correctly and have permission to collect. Remember, no collecting in state or national parks.