Miner’s Lettuce

Miner’s Lettuce © TCorelli

Claytonia perfoliata ssp. perfoliata
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Miner’s Lettuce Family (Montiaceae)
    • Common annual herb
    • Leaves
      • Fleshy (succulent) leaves
      • In 3 sequential forms
        • First sets are blade-shaped
        • Next sets are spade-shaped
        • Finally, a fused pair creates a disk (perfoliate leaf) below the flowers
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a terminal raceme (flowers attached on short, equal stalks to a central stem)
      • Numerous, small, white to pink flowers
        • Emerge from the center of the perfoliate leaf
        • May or may not have a stalk
        • Small bract (modified leaf) at the base of the lowest flower covers the emerging buds
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Height to 16 in.

    Distribution

      • Native to California
        • Grows in seasonally damp locations in oak woodlands and coastal sage scrub
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, confined to western mountain and coastal regions of North America
      • Grows at elevations to 3,280 ft.
      Distinct Leaf Types © TCorelli / DSchiel

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Seeds eaten by birds
        • Native people reported to place leaves near red ant nests so swarming ants would leave a vinegar taste–creating salad dressing! (Corelli 2004)
        • Eaten as a salad and boiled green (similar to spinach) by Native people, settlers, and Europeans
        • Good source of vitamin C
        • CAUTION – Contains oxalic acid and can be toxic if ingested in large quantities

        Name Derivation

          • Claytonia (klay-TONE-ee-a) – named for John Clayton, an 18th-century American botanist
          • perfoliata (per-fo-lee-AY-ta)from the Latin prefix per-, “through,” and folium, “leaf,” as the stem appears to perforate the fused upper leaves
          • Miner’s lettuce – refers to California Gold Rush miners who ate it to prevent scurvy

          Notes

          Seeds with Elaiosomes © DSchiel
            • Happiest in a cool, damp environment; stressed leaves turn deep red
            • The white, fleshy tips on the seeds are elaiosomes, nutrient-rich food packages that attract ants
              • Ants carry the seeds back to their colony, feed the food packet to their larvae, and discard the seed, thus aiding in seed dispersal (Lengyel 2010)
              • Giant trillium (Trillium chloropetalum) is another Edgewood species that uses this strategy, called myrmecochory
            • Edgewood’s miner’s lettuce is classified as a subspecies
              • Subspecies rank is used to recognize geographic distinctiveness, whereas variety rank is appropriate for variants seen throughout the geographic range of the species; in practice, these two ranks are not distinct

            At Edgewood

              • Found in woodlands and grasslands
                • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
                  • Note observations are for Claytonia perfoliata
              • Flowers February – May

              See General References

              Specific References

                Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California. 2019. Weed Gallery: Miner’s Lettuce–UC. State-wide Integrated Pest Management Program.

                  Lengyel, S. 2010. Convergent evolution of seed dispersal by ants, and phylogeny and biogeography in flowering plants: A global survey. Abstract. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 12 (1): 43–55.