Miner's lettuce

Claytonia perfoliata

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Claytonia perfoliata (syn. Montia perfoliata), also known as miner's lettuce, Indian lettuce, spring beauty, or winter purslane, is a flowering plant in the family Montiaceae. It is a fleshy, herbaceous, annual plant native to the western mountain and coastal regions, from southernmost Alaska and central British Columbia, all the way south to Central America, but most common in California in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin Valleys.

Together with Claytonia parviflora and C. rubra, C. perfoliata comprises what is almost certainly a polyploid pillar complex, which is based on three diploid species. Two key studies on the population ecology and genetics of the C. perfoliata complex were published in 2012.


Claytonia perfoliata is a tender rosette-forming plant that grows to a maximum of 40 centimetres (16 in) in height, but mature plants can be as short as 1 centimetre (0.39 in). The cotyledons are usually bright green (rarely purplish- or brownish-green), succulent, long and narrow. The first true leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant, and are 0.5 to 4 centimetres (0.20 to 1.57 in) long, with a typically long petiole (exceptionally up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) long).

The small pink or white flowers have five petals 2 to 6 millimetres (0.079 to 0.236 in) long. The flowers appear from February to May or June and are grouped 5–40 together. The flowers grow above a pair of leaves that are connected together around the stem so as to appear as a single circular leaf. Mature plants form a rosette; they have numerous erect to spreading stems that branch from the base.

C. perfoliata is common in the springtime, and prefers a cool, damp environment. The plant first appears in sunlit areas after the first heavy rains of the year, though the best stands are found in shaded areas, especially in the uplands, into early summer. As the days get hotter and drier, the leaves turn a deep red color as they dry out.


There are three well-studied geographical subspecies of C. perfoliata:

  • Claytonia perfoliata subsp. perfoliata: Pacific coastal United States and southwest Canada
  • Claytonia perfoliata subsp. intermontana: interior western United States
  • Claytonia perfoliata subsp. mexicana: coastal southern California and Arizona, all the way south to Mexico to Guatemala


The common name of miner's lettuce refers to how the plant was used by miners during the California Gold Rush, who ate it to prevent scurvy. It is in season in April and May, and can be eaten as a leaf vegetable. The entire plant, except the roots, is edible, and it provides vitamin C. Most commonly, it is eaten raw in salads, but it is not quite as delicate as cultivated lettuce. Sometimes, it is boiled like spinach, which it resembles in taste and chemical composition. Caution should be used because wild C. perfoliata can sometimes accumulate toxic amounts of soluble oxalates (also present in spinach).

It has been widely naturalized in western Europe, after being introduced there in the eighteenth century, possibly by the naturalist Archibald Menzies, who brought it to Kew Gardens in London in 1794.


Other names

Claytonia perfoliata is called piyada̠ʼ in the Western Mono language, a Native American language of California.


  • McIntyre, P. J. 2012. Cytogeography and genome size variation in the Claytonia perfoliata (Portulacaceae) polyploid complex. Annals of Botany (Oxford) 110(6): 1195-203.
  • McIntyre, P. J. 2012. Polyploidy associated with altered and broader ecological niches in the Claytonia perfoliata (Portulacaceae) species complex. American Journal of Botany 99(4): 655-62.

External links

  • Media related to Claytonia perfoliata at Wikimedia Commons
  • Data related to Claytonia perfoliata at Wikispecies
  • Flora North America Claytonia perfoliata
  • Calflora database: Claytonia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce)
  • Jepson Flora Project: Claytonia perfoliata
  • Plants of British Columbia: Claytonia perfoliata



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