Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Miners Lettuce

Shooting Star

Miners Lettuce

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Miners Lettuce
Scientific Name:Claytonia perfoliata
Family:Portulacaceae
Plant Type:Annual
Size:up to a foot tall
Habitat:shady areas in chaparral, woodland, sage scrub
Blooms:January to May

This little plant is a common sight in the spring alongside the trail. While not very showy, the rich green color of its leaves and their distinctive shapes make it easy to identify.

Two types of leaves form on the plant. Lower, somewhat triangular-shaped leaves appear on long stems, followed by its more noticeable upper leaves which are cupped and roundish, sometimes shaped a bit like the letter "B". This symmetry belies that each upper leaf is really made of two leaves joined together. These upper leaves can be up to 3 inches in diameter. A distinguishing feature is how the flower stem appears to pierce through the (conjoined) leaf. Small, 5-petalled white flowers form on the stem's terminus. Flowers bloom from February through May. As the plant declines with the heat and aridity of summer, the leaves turn reddish.

Claytonia refers to 18th century botanist John Clayton. The flower stem emerging through the upper leaf gave the plant its species name, Perfoliata. It is reported that both Native peoples and Europeans ate the leaves; like many greens, they do well in salads or boiled. The taste is said to resemble spinach.

Contributed by Liz Baumann

Other Similar Plants:
Red Maids Calandrinia menziesii

Originally featured: April 2008
Last modified: May 14 2017 02:52:10.
References:
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves