Claytonia perfoliata

Douglas Justice writes today's article.

Thanks to Marcela2 for today's image via the BPotD Flickr Group Pool (original image). Marcela2 writes (translated from the original Dutch ):

"The plant is frost resistant and as a result, in early spring an important source of vitamin C and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. In North America the plant was appreciated by both native Indians and the gold miners in California. For these people it was an important scurvy preventative in early spring, when they otherwise lacked a good source of vitamin C."

The genus is named in honour of John Clayton (1686-1773), who, according to William T. Stearn (Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners, 1972 ) "came to Virginia from England in 1705. He corresponded with the botanical great of the day—Linnaeus, Gronovius, Kalm, and John Bartram —as well as with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Collinson, the English Quaker botanist, described him as the greatest botanist in America."

The epithet, perfoliata, undoubtedly refers to the leaves that subtend the inflorescences of this species. The base of a perfoliate leaf completely encircles the stem, as can be seen in the drawing here. However, keen observers will notice that the encircling leaves of miner's lettuce as pictured above do not resemble those in the drawing. Indeed, the inflorescence leaves of this species are not perfoliate at all, but actually paired leaves that encircle the stem because they are fused at their bases. Such leaves are termed connate.

Claytonia perfoliata

20 responses to “Claytonia perfoliata”

  1. Katherine

    Hence the common name, miner’s lettuce.
    In addition to coming up early and being frost resistant, the other reason it was popular in California is that it survives the long summer droughts (usually 6 months of no rain), dying off in late spring and coming up again the next year.

  2. EJ

    Such a cosmopolitan post: England, America, Holland, Sweden, and Australia – all for a little “weed’.

  3. George L. in Vermont

    Thank you to Marcela for the beautiful image!
    Just to correct a common misconception, apparently held by many european settlers, any area with pines, firs or spruces offers an abundant year round source of Vitamin C held in their needles. (Avoid Yew!). You may reference this in any complete wild edible guide, such as Peterson’s. Scurvy was a scourge caused by a lack of knowledge of what the land offered, not the winter landscape itself. Here at Wisdom of Herbs School we encourage our students to nibble these trees freely! White Pine needle tea is a perenial classtime favorite, infused with hot water or as a ‘sun tea’.

  4. Annie Morgan

    I’d heard of Miner’s Lettuce, but had no idea what it looked like. Dear little flowers. Thanks ever so much for this one!

  5. Marilyn Brown

    My parents took us camping each summer during the 40’s and 50’s in Northern California’s mountains. Miner’s Lettuce was a favorite wild treat as we tagged after my trout-fishing dad. I also remember with great affection the wild columbine and masses of ferns. Thanks for the happy memories — and the exquisite photo.

  6. joan

    I know this as Montia perfoliata. Wikipedia
    indicates that the names are synonymous. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay) we start to look for it on our walks in January. I will try to remember to look closely at those connate leaves. Claytonia connata?

  7. Christian

    What, if any, characters differentiate a Claytonia from a Montia? I think that I also remember some discrepancies between the genera and also maybe even within this and other similar species.

  8. Christian

    Joan, I checked the Missouri Botanical website, and it is Claytonia perfoliata. I do not have a copy of Hitchcock and Cronquist with me at the moment, but I think this plant keys to Montia perfoliata, so the name change is rather recent.

  9. Diane Whitehead

    I have lush plants growing with my winter lettuce and arugula, but I don’t harvest the claytonia much – I don’t like the grassy taste.
    Does anyone enjoy the taste? If I tried eating it before it flowers in spring, would it taste better?

  10. petra

    i love this plant! i love to eat this plant! has a wonderful pepper-y taste, similiar to arugula! i always get excited when i find it during hikes in california!

  11. Quin

    you can JUST touch it with the sauteing heat of hot olive or grapeseed oil and have an effect much like warm, or wilted, spinach salad – YUM!

  12. Julie

    Here on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, this species grows abundantly. In fact, I have a large showing in my back yard. I have not yet sampled it, but it’s salad season, so who knows??

  13. elizabeth a airhart

    the lady bird johnson web site
    has an image and a link to a
    place to buy seeds
    my family was in america in the
    in the 1700s made thier way
    to indiana by 1820 1833 then some
    further west
    i like to read about the plants
    that may have been growing in their times
    thank you and to the commenters

  14. Christine

    This was a favorite way for my family to get our “greens” while backpacking in the Rockbound and Desolation Valley areas back in the 50s and 60s. Great photo!

  15. Wendy

    Leslie Haskin in Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest relates the habit of local Indians who gathered the Claytonia and placed it over ant nests. After the ants ran all over the leaves the flavor was improved by formic acid.

  16. marcella2

    I am Marcella2. Thanka for all the interesting and kind comments.
    I’m very glad with them.

  17. Tom Wheeler

    To clarify Katherine’s post, Claytonia perfoliata is an annual. Re. Joan’s & Christian’s discussion: as a name, Claytonia perfoliata dates from 1796; Montia perfoliata dates from 1893. The earlier name takes presidence.

  18. joan

    Thank you, Tom!

  19. Karen Vaughan

    I grew up in California eating miner’s lettuce and love the grassy taste. We too used it as a source of fresh greens on backpack trips.
    Curiously I found it growing, or to be more accurate, dried out, in the mountains of Sicily last August. The pseudo-perfoliate structure was unmistakable.

  20. sylvia Mandeville

    To my surprise I saw from the railway carriage which was standing in Shrewsbury(UK) station, a clump of Spring Beauty! They were about three feet below the platform and were surviving with difficulty on the actual railway track. Although I am familiar with many wild flowers, and constantly make check lists, I never knew it existed.
    I am delighted to make its acquaintance. I like the varied names for it. Has it ever been found in Wales,which is where I live?
    Sylvia Mandeville

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