Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)
- Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
- Miner’s Lettuce Family (Montiaceae)
- Annual herb
- Alternate (1 leaf at each stem junction) and linear to spoon-shaped
- Light green and slightly succulent in texture
- 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 (above the attachment of 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 (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)
- Nectar source for bees
- Seeds eaten by birds, insects, and small mammals
- Native people
- Ate the young leaves and shoots
- Prized the seeds for their flavor
- Used 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
- “Pinole” is a Hispanic version of an Aztec word
- Used as a significant 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
- Used for pinole (Anderson 2005)
- Meadows were burned to stimulate the growth of red maids and other seed-bearing plants (Anderson 2005)
- CAUTION – leaves have a high content of oxalic acid and should not to be consumed in large quantities; cooking helps to reduce oxalic acid
- 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
- For an explanation of this pronunciation see Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?
- 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
- 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
- Found in grasslands
- See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
- Flowers February – June
Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley. Pg. 139, 183.
California Chaparral Institute. Chaparral Fire Ecology.
Gauna, F.J. Plant of the Week: Red Maids. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
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: 43–55.
Mitchell, M. 2017. Montiaceae: Miner’s lettuce family – Red maids. Monterey County Wildflowers, Trees, and Ferns – A Photographic Guide.
Santa Monica Mountain Trails Council. 2013. Red Maids.
Timbrook, J., et al. 1982. Vegetation burning by the Chumash. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 4: 163-186. JSTOR.
van Doorn, W.G. and U. van Meeteren. 2003, Aug. 1. Flower opening and closure: a review. Journal of Experimental Botany 54: 1801–1812. Oxford Academic.