Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is common in Northeastern California where Leonard and I live. We encounter another “miner’s lettuce” (red-stemmed miner’s lettuce – Claytonia rubra) less often, however red-stemmed miner’s lettuce in not considered rare.
An annual native that can be found in moist soils throughout the West, red-stemmed miner’s lettuce prefers deep shade in mixed conifer habitats, often at higher elevations than C. perfoliata. It is a member of the purselane family.
Red-stemmed miner’s lettuce is a variable plant that can hybridize with some other members of the Claytonia genus, thus often confusing identification. The red-stemmed miner’s lettuce basal rosette is formed from rubbery, smooth-margined, spade-shaped leaves. The petioles (stalks) of the outer leaves are longer than the petioles of the inner leaves. The stem leaves can be completely separate or partially perfoliate (wrapping completely around the stem). The inflorescence is a dense cluster of tiny flowers with two sepals, five white to pinkish petals and five stamens. The herbage of red-stemmed miner’s lettuce is red when young, getting greener with age. One distinguishing characteristic of red-stemmed miner’s lettuce is the red color on the bottom of the leaves. The same red and yellow pigments that color beets (betalains) cause this red color.
Also commonly called red-stemmed spring beauty, the leaves and stems of red-stemmed miner’s lettuce are palatable and taste very similar to, you guessed it, lettuce. One desirable characteristic of red-stemmed miner’s lettuce is that it does not become bitter and tough with age. Leonard and I will often nibble miner’s lettuce on the trail or add it to a salad or sandwich. The colloquial name, miner’s lettuce, refers to this plant’s use by California miners during the Gold Rush.
Medicinally a poultice of crushed miner’s lettuce stems and leaves was used to cool and soothe minor skin irritations and burns.
In the literature the genus name for red-stemmed miner’s lettuce is also seen as Montia.
These red-stemmed miner’s lettuce plants were photographed along the South Shore of Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA).