“Its modest charms are best appreciated from a kneeling position, appropriate in the presence of the divine handiwork represented in these small jewels”
LJ Clark, Wildflowers of British Columbia (1973)
Red maids (Calandrinia menziesii) are delightful little flowers that indeed do require one to get down on the ground to truly admire their delicate beauty – an appropriate May Day post. This wildflower, however, can become weedy in cultivated fields and orchards and is therefore often classified as a noxious weed.
An annual, red maids are native to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Distinct populations also occur in Massachusettes, Mississippi and parts of Central and South America. Their habitat is grasslands and open or disturbed areas with vernally moist soils below 7,000 feet.
A low, spreading plant with erect stems, red maids are somewhat fleshy or succulent. The alternate leaves are narrow and strap-shaped. The leaves can be somewhat hairy or hairless, except for a fringe of fine hairs along the margin.
A few to several bowl-shaped flowers are borne in the axils of the upper leaves or in small groups at the stem tips. The five rounded petals are magenta to rose red or rarely are white. Red maid flowers have 2 sepals that remain as the plant matures, 3 to 15 stamens with yellow to orange anthers and a superior ovary with a 3-branched style.
Red maid fruits are somewhat papery capsules that open from the top into three segments to reveal black, shiny, lens-shaped seeds.
The young greens can be collected and eaten like spinach. Because they contain oxalic acid, moderation must be used when ingesting red maid leaves or the leaves should be boiled before eating to reduce the oxalic acid content. Native Americans made flour and an oily meal (pinole) from red maid seeds. Birds, insects and small mammals also enjoy red maids seeds.
Desert rockpurslane and fringed redmaids are two other common names for C menziesii.
Until recently red maids belonged to the Purslane Family (Portulacaceae) and Calandrinia ciliata was their scientific name. Currently Calandrinia menziesii is the accepted scientific name and red maids now are placed in the Miner’s Lettuce Family (Montiacae). Jean Louis Calandrini (1703 – 1758), a Swiss professor of mathamatics and philosophy and a botanical author, and Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), a Scottish surgeon and botanist, are honored by the genus and species designations respectively.
These red maids were photographed along Wapama Trail in the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park in April.