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 (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
  • 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.