Red Maids

Red maids © DSchiel

Calandrinia menziesii

Description (Jepson,

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Miner’s Lettuce Family (Montiaceae)
    • Annual herb
    • Leaves
      • Alternate (1 leaf at each stem junction) and linear to spoon-shaped
      • Light green and slightly succulent in texture
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
      • Generally 5 pink, red, or magenta petals with white streaks leading to a white center
      • Yellow-orange anthers (pollen-producing parts of the stamens/male structures)
      • Ovary superior (attached above other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
    • Height to 16 in.


      • Native to California
        • Grows in grasslands and disturbed areas, along trails or roads, and where gophers have been active
        • See Calflora for statewide observation of this plant
      • Outside California, grows in New Mexico and Baja California, Mexico
      • Grows at elevations to 7,200 ft.

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

        • Nectar source for bees
        • Birds, insects, and small mammals eat the seeds
        • Native people had several uses for red maids
          • Ate the young leaves and shoots
          • Collected the seeds for pinole (Anderson 2005)
            • Pinole is a general term for various flours made from the ground, toasted seeds of wildflowers and grasses, eaten dry or moistened and shaped into balls or cakes
            • Spanish word, from an Aztec word, pinolli
          • Chumash burned grasslands to encourage the growth of red maids (Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, 2013)
          • Calandrinia seeds were an important offering as evidenced by their presence at numerous burial sites (Timbrook 1982)
            • In 1968, archeologists discovered 12 quarts of red maids seeds at a 600-year-old burial site on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara; this quantity is especially impressive as each seed is no larger than a period
        • CAUTION – leaves have a high content of oxalic acid and should not to be consumed in large quantities; cooking helps to reduce oxalic acid

        Name Derivation

          • Calandrinia (kal-an-DRIN-ee-a) – named for Jean Louis Calandrini (1703-1758), a Swiss botanist and professor of mathematics and philosophy
          • menziesii (MING-is-ee-eye) – named after Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), Scottish botanist and surgeon


            • Sometimes referred to as a “poor man’s barometer”: the flowers won’t open unless there is sun
              • This is an example of nyctinasty, which refers to diurnal and nocturnal changes (single or repetitive) exhibited by the leaves and flowers of some plants (van Doorn 2003)
            • Intense, deep red and pink colors of red maid petals are caused by betalain pigments
              • Betalain pigments occur only in the order Caryophyllales, to which the Miner’s Lettuce family belongs, and in some mushrooms
              • Most plants in this order produce betalain pigments and lack the more common anthocyanin pigments
              • Betalain can be expressed in all plant tissues, including roots
              • Beets, bougainvillea, ice plant, and many cacti are other examples of plants with betalains
            • 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)
              • Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata ssp. perfoliata) is another Edgewood species that uses this strategy, called myrmecochory
            • Previously in the Purslane family

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with the first leaf form of miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata ssp. perfoliata), in the same family, as the seed leaves are also narrow, long, and somewhat succulent
              • Check out this short Jepson video for more ID tips

              At Edgewood

                • Found in grasslands
                • Flowers February – June

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley.

                    California Chaparral Institute. Chaparral Fire Ecology.

                      Gauna, F.J. United States Department of Agriculture/Forest Service. Plant of the Week: Red Maids.

                        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.

                          Mitchell, M. 2017. Montiaceae-Miner’s Lettuce Family. Monterey County Wildflowers, Trees and Ferns–A Photographic Guide.

                            Santa Monica Mountain Trails Council. 2013. Plant of the Month: Red Maids.

                              Timbrook, J., et al. 1982. Vegetation Burning by the Chumash. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 4(2), 163-186.

                                van Doorn, W.G. and van Meeteren, U. 2003, Aug. 1. Flower opening and closure: a review. Journal of Experimental Botany, Volume 54, Issue 389, pp.1801–1812.