Red Maids

Red maids © DSchiel

Calandrinia menziesii
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • 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.

Distribution

  • 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)

  • Wildlife
    • 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
        • Spanish word, from an Aztec word, pinolli
      • 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
    • 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

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

Notes

  • 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. 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.