Earlier this month Leonard and I observed many Siberian candyflowers (Claytonia sibirica) while hiking with friends, Linda and Jim, at Silver Falls State Park (Marion County OR). This particular specimen was growing along the Winter Falls Trail.
A native member of the Purselane Family, Siberian candyflower is an annual or short-lived perennial found in moist, shady sites in the Pacific Coast States, including Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho and Montana. Also found in Massachusettes, Siberian candyflower was most likely introduced there and it has naturalized. Siberian candyflower is also well established in the British Isles where it is not a native plant.
Several erect to spreading stems arise from a taproot or short rhizome. Under favorable conditions Siberian candyflower, a hairless plant, can form a tangled mass on the forest floor. New plants can also form from stolons.
Siberian candyflower has two types of leaves, all of which are slightly succulent. The basal leaves are egg-shaped with long petioles and resemble spoons. Each stem has two, opposite paired leaves without petioles. These cauline (stem) leaves are broadly oval and are not fused together.
Each plant has one to three loose, raceme-like clusters containing several stalked flowers. In deep shade the Siberian candyflower flowers are pinkish, while those in less shady locations tend toward white. There is a small bract at the base of the inflorescence. The five notched petals have distinct pink streaks variously described as candy stripes or pencil markings.
Siberian candyflower fruits are capsules that open into three segments and contain one to three black seeds.
The leaves of Siberian candyflower are edible and make good salad greens or can be cooked as a potherb. Unlike many edible wildflowers which become tough and bitter with age, Siberian candyflower remains tender and palatable throughout the growing season.
Native people used Siberian candyflower extensively for medicinal purposes. Syphilis sores were treated with a concoction of candyflower leaves, pitch and mountain hemlock bark. A poultice of leaves was applied to minor burns and skin irritations. Teas made from candyflower leaves or eating the entire plant were employed to induce labor or relieve constipation and headaches.
As the species name, sibirica, indicates, Siberian candyflower was thought to have been first discovered in Siberia or to at least grow there. There is some dispute about these claims. However, Siberian candyflower does grow on western islands off Alaska.
A synonym for C. sibirica is Montia sibirica. There are many other common names for this plant including Siberian miner’s lettuce, pink purselane and candyflower.