Miners Lettuce – Claytonia Perfoliata

Miner's LettuceMiner’s lettuce is a is a native annual flowering plant in the family Montiaceae, known by its scientific names Claytonia perfoliata and Montia perfoliata as well as Indian lettuce, spring beauty and winter purslane. It is a fleshy, herbaceous annual plant native to the western mountain and coastal regions of North America from southernmost Alaska and central British Columbia south to Central America. In California it is most common in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys, but there are places within the San Bernardino Mountains where it grows in abundance.
A rosette-forming plant, growing from less than one inch to a maximum of 16 inches in height at maturity, Claytonia perfoliata has cotyledons, or seed leaves, that are usually bright green and are more rarely purplish or brownish-green, succulent, long and narrow and broadest at the tip. The first true leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant, and are one-fifth of an inch to one-and-two-fifths of an inch long, with an often long petiole on occasion up to eight inches.
Flowers with five petals two to six millimeters long bloom from February through May. Five to forty white to pale pink flowers on slender down-curved stalks cluster above a circular to weakly squared or cuplike bract along a stem to appear as one circular leaf. Mature plants have numerous erect to spreading stems that branch from the base.
As seedlings, the first true leaf and later leaves are narrowly to normally lance-shaped with bases that taper to the stalk. These leaves form a basal rosette and are distinguished from redmaids, which lack definite stalks and have somewhat broader and fleshier leaves. As a young plant it is a basal rosette. Upon maturity, the plants have numerous erect to spreading, slender stems that branch from the base and reach up to full height. Leaf shape varies from football shaped to triangular-kidney shaped with rounded or pointy tips. The flower stalk appears to “grow through” a circular cuplike structure, known as a bract, that looks like a leaf and surrounds the entire stem.
The fruit it bears are tiny, egg-shaped, green, open pods, 1/17 to 1/6 of an inch in diameter enclosed by green petal-like sepals containing two to six glossy, black oval to circular seeds, about 1/26 to 1/8 of an inch in diameter, with a white appendage at the point of attachment.
Its habitats include chaparral, oak, woodlands, forests, and coastal sage scrub, agronomic and vegetable crop fields, orchards, vineyards, gardens, yards, and other disturbed sites.
It is common in the spring, and it prefers cool, damp conditions. It first appears in sunlit areas after the first heavy rains. The best stands are found in shaded areas, especially in the uplands, into the early summer. As the days get hotter, the leaves turn a deep red color as they dry out. It dries up with the onset of hot spring weather. Although the leaves are sometimes cultivated or collected for salad greens, occasionally it accumulates soluble oxalates, which can be toxic when ingested.
The common name miner’s lettuce refers to its use by California Gold Rush miners who ate it to get vitamin C to prevent scurvy. It can be eaten as a leaf vegetable, most commonly raw in salads, but to many palates it is not quite as delicate as other lettuce. Sometimes it is boiled like spinach, which it resembles in taste
According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce — about the size of a decent salad — contains a third of the human daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron.

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