Wildflower of the Week - maid for you
These delicate “maids” need no lipstick.
Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliate
Red Maids, which occur from British Columbia to southern California, are found primarily in western Oregon from the coast eastward into the interior valleys. The species is very rarely, but occasionally, reported east of the Cascades.
Along the immediate coast, Red Maids can sometimes be seen blooming as early as late February, while in some locations they may be found as late as the end of June. Generally, however, the very best time to find Red Maids is right now!
Formerly in the Purslane Family, Portulacacea, this bright red flowering annual is now placed in the Miner’s Lettuce Family, Montiaceae. Red maids are somewhat fleshy, slightly succulent plants that grow close to the ground. While there are nearly 100 species of Calandrinia found primarily in South America, we have only this one diminutive species in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. (California, however, boasts a similar-looking second species.)
The common name is obviously in reference to Red Maid’s bright red flowers, which to 18th century European minds were apparently said to be like beautiful, delicate maids. Calandrinia was named in honor of Jean-Louis Calandrini, a multi-talented, 18th century Swiss botanist and scientist, as well as a professor of mathematics and philosophy.
The species epithet, “ciliata,” is in reference to hairs generally found on the edges of the 2 sepals. There are also similar small hairs or cilia on the margins of the upper, semi-fleshy leaves. While there are usually 5 petals on each flower, some flowers have as few as 3 petals, or as many as 7. In the center of the flower are 5 to 12 anthers supported by relatively broad filaments, and finally a pistil bearing a 3-cleft stigma. Very rarely, but occasionally in this species, you may also find an all-white petaled flower.
Red Maids tend to grow in sandy to loamy soils, in grassy areas, and often show up in cultivated areas as one of the few native species that may grow as a “weed” in your flower bed or garden. However, when I pull my weeds, I leave the Calandrinias! Their typically five-petaled small flowers close at night, reopening by midday. So, to avoid accidentally removing them, best not to do your spring weeding too early in the morning— to pick these red floral jewels might be to dishonor Jean-Louis Calandrini, and you wouldn’t want to do that!