Featured Plants

An in-depth look at a plant – what makes it special, it’s characteristics, where to find it in the natural landscape, and other notables. Common non-native and invasive plants are occasionally reported about.

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner’s Lettuce)

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner’s Lettuce)

Heather Johnson has a new watercolor for us to use on the cover of this issue of Obispoensis. One might ask what is the origin of the practice of putting a different plant on the cover of each Obispoensis issue? It all started with the founder of our CNPS chapter, Dr. Robert Hoover. At the beginning of the first CNPS chapter meeting I ever attended (Fall, 1969) Dr. Hoover got up and made a presentation of what he called the “Plant of the Month.” It turned out the plant he chose to discuss was not a native plant or to even be known to exist in the wild. He discussed Franklinia alatamaha or Franklin Tree, a plant that had been collected and described from Georgia during Colonial times but after exhaustive searches hadn’t been found since. Why did he talk about a plant extinct in the wild? It had just appeared on a newly published United States postage stamp!

However, Heather’s cover watercolor is of a plant found throughout California as well as all the surrounding states. One or more of its varieties spread north into British Columbia and South all the way to Central America. The plant is seen on practically every spring field trip, but I’m reluctant to call it common. I prefer to think of it as widespread. Miner’s lettuce prefers shaded, moist, disturbed areas. It tends to be common during the rainy season and spotty other times. In the early spring, when there’s still lots of surface water, it can be found just about anywhere. I have a picture from the Shell Creek area of it growing in the crotch of a blue oak tree.

I also suspect everyone who has any experience with native plants, especially edible native plants, already knew what it is. Yes, it’s most commonly identified around the central coast as miner’s lettuce (Claytonia (Montia) perfoliata). In a book entitled Edible Wild Plants (originally, 1939) by Oliver P. Medsger, that has been in my library since my childhood, has also been called Indian lettuce, or Spanish lettuce and in Europe it’s cultivated under the name of winter purslane. All these names refer to use as a spring green. I suspect the name, miner’s lettuce, is the most recent and probably dates back only to the mid-1800s when California was over-run with miners looking for gold. I also am sure the miner’s diet was mostly tubers, grain, legumes with some meat and whisky. All of these ‘foods’ lacked enough required vitamins and minerals which would have been amply supplied by grabbing a handful of miner’s lettuce leaves on the way to a stream to pan for gold.

Heather’s watercolor is only of a couple of flowering stems which produce the leaves that were used to coin the second part of the scientific name – perfoliata. The situation where a leaf blade base appears to be passed through (perforated) by its stem is said to be perfoliate. The regular leaves are all basal and form a mound a few inches high and wide. Each basal leaf is modestly succulent and is in the shape of the spatula from your kitchen. It has a long tapering base and broad squarish or egg-shaped tip. I suspect it’s these basal leaves that were eaten.

You may also have noticed that there are two possible generic names for this plant – Claytonia and Montia. So, which is the correct genus? Also, if you go to older floras and wildflower books you will find that its botanical family seems to have changed from Portulaccaceae to Montiaceae. The name currently valid according the Jepson Manual, 2nd Ed. Is Claytonia perfoliata and is placed in the Montiaceae family. According to the Jepson Manual, the change in genus and family is referenced to a paper published in 2006. This means that the change is probably based on modern DNA sequence data as well as new technical descriptive data which was then organized using current computer classification techniques. The Jepson Manual also noted that some of the characters used required a microscope with 20X magnification which most of us don’t have. This procedure resulted in miner’s lettuce (along with a couple of other species) being moved from the genus, Montia, to the genus Claytonia which included several species of spring beauties. The remaining species in Montia remained in Montia and a new family was created for them – Montiaceae. Why didn’t the species name (perfoliata) change when the species was moved to a new genus? This is due to another rule of Botanical Nomenclature. When a species is moved from one genus to another, the species epithet moves with it unless the species epithet already exists in the new genus. If it does, the mover must come up with a new name for the species in its new location. Since the epithet, perfoliata, didn’t already exist in Claytonia, the epithet moved with miner’s lettuce’s scientific name to its new location. This rule helps keep track of name changes.

-Dirk Walters

Claytonia perfoliata, Miner’s Lettuce; original watercolor by Heather Johnson

Matilija poppy

The cover of the May-June Obispoensis features a watercolor of Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri, by Heather Johnson. Dirk Walters provides an introduction and notes to the description written by Alice Meyer back in the 1970’s or early 80’s for the local Audubon Chapter Newsletter.

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Solanum xanti (Blue, Purple, Chaparral, or San Diego Nightshade)

Solanum xanti, Blue nightshade, article accompanied by original watercolor painting by Heather Johnson. Blue nightshade (the name most commonly used around here) is not pushy in its appearance unless it’s in bloom. It is up to a yard tall and the stem is half woody or suffrutescent. The ordinary looking, mostly un-lobed leaves are up to 3 inches long and lanceshaped to oval. Blue nightshade even prefers to grow near other plants and just blend in.

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Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage)

The cover of this Obispoensis is another beautiful water color by Heather Johnson. In our area Hummingbird sage can grow in an extensive mat. Its leaves are large (10 in (20 cm) long and 3 in (8 cm) wide). The leaf surface appears quilted. Its family affiliation (Mint or Lamiaceae or Labitae) is shown clearly in Heather’s water color.

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Vitis californica (California grape)

As well as reddish fruits, this variety of wine grape produces bright red leaves in the fall. Enter DNA to the story. Several DNA studies proved that the cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’ is truly a hybrid between the native California grape and the European wine grape Vitis vinifera var. Alicante Bouschet.

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Clarkia speciosa subsp. immaculata (Pismo Clarkia)

I chose the Pismo clarkia because it grows in the area surrounding Mardi’s home and nowhere else. It grows naturally in about 20 occurrences from the southern Edna Valley, south through the foothills and valleys of the Southern San Luis Range, ending east of Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande (Huasna Valley).

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Viola pedunculata (Johnny-jump-up)

Wild (California, yellow, or grass) violet, pansy or Johnny –jump-up This botanical illustration was created by Mardi Niles using a Micron 005 #1 Archival Ink pen and Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils on Bristol Regular paper. It will be the first of several...

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Common Milkweed (kotolo) Asclepias eriocarpus

The cover drawing and article for this issue of the OBISPOENSIS was written and drawn by Alice Meyer. She was a very active member (and first Hoover Award Recipient in the 1970 and 80’s. She is the one who named our newsletter, OBISPOENSIS, and served as its editor...

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Coast Live Oak

Dirk Walters, illustration by Bonnie Walters Oaks have been in the news a lot recently. Essentially all of it has been bad from the Oak’s point of view. First, there was the clearing of valley (Quercus lobata) and blue (Q. douglasii) oaks in the Paso Robles area. and...

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Common (White) Yarrow (Achillea millefollium)

Common (White) Yarrow (Achillea millefollium) The plant discussed in this issue of the Obispoensis is one that I’ve wanted to take on for a long time, but could never bring myself to ask Bonnie to draw. Since we are using photos to illustrate it by, I think it’s time....

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Fall Color

O.K.... so we’re not Vermont. However we do have some pretty fall color displays. If you like the gold of aspen, you will see the same colors in our closely related cottonwood stands, both trees belonging to the genus Populus. Cottonwoods are riparian trees, and the...

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Ceanothus hearstiorum

Introduction October and November are when our Chapter gets serious about growing native plants. We have a November meeting devoted to it as well as our annual plant sale. This got me to remembering some articles written and drawings drawn by Alice G. Meyer that are...

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Solidago californica

California Goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica or S. californica) The photo by Dr. David Chipping that accompanies this note are of the California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica or Solidago californica). According to Dr. Hoover in his Vascular...

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Oenothera deltoides

Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides) Desert evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) is in full bloom at Shell Creek as I write this. So it seemed appropriate to resurrect a drawing Bonnie drew back in 1981. It is one of her earlier drawings since it shows a...

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Cucurbita palmata

Coyote melon Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is based on a picture sent to me by George Butterworth. The species, Cucurbita palmata, has many common names. The ones I found on the web include coyote melon, coyote gourd, desert gourd, palmate-leafed...

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Quercus Kelloggii

Kellogg Oak The following is an article from February 1993. It was chosen by the editor to spare me the choice since Bonnie and I were away in late October. We totally agree with his choice; we had totally forgotten about it. The repeat of this article reminds me that...

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Antirrhinum ovatum

Oval Leaved Snapdragon Drawing by Bonnie and article by Dr. Malcolm McLeod below appeared in the November, 1991 Obispoensis.   When you read it you will see lots of similarities with our current drought situation as well as the much hoped for possibilities of an...

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Cornus sericea

Creek Dogwood For this issue of the Obispoensis, I’m going out on a limb so to speak. Since the plant is a very small tree or moderately sized shrub, that limb will prove to be slender. The plant is the red osier, creek, or as stated in the new Jepson California...

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Atriplex patula

Spear Orache, Spear Salt Bush As I write this article, it’s August in the year of California’s third most severe drought. There’s not much out there in bloom. So I’ve retreated to one of the few places where plants are doing anything. Yes, I’m returning to the coastal...

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Calandrinia ciliata

Red Maids Bonnie’s drawing for this issue of Obispoensis is of a plant that is found throughout the western United States as well as spreading north into British Columbia. It has also been recorded in a couple of South American countries. It is especially common in...

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Valley Oak Snag

We are going back into the archives for this cover of Obispoensis. The landscape is a drawing of the Shell Creek area that Bonnie drew for the December 1991 cover. The inset is an ID drawing of the leaves and acorn of the valley oak. Why would one want to combine...

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Erodium moschatum

Filaree Erodium moschatum & E. cicutarium I assume it is not news to anyone that California in general and the Central Coast in particular has been experiencing an extreme drought. That means that most native plants that are adapted to this situation have been in...

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Vernal Pool with Downingia

Vernal Pools occur where there is moderate to large sized “natural” depression with no outlet. The depression has to be large enough to capture enough rainfall to fill the pond to some depth. The water collects in the lowest point in the depression. There also must be...

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  • 03

    6:00 pm-9:00 pm
    SLO Vets Hall
    801 Grand Ave, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, USA

    The October meeting of the California Native Plant Society will take place on Thursday evening, October 3rd, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at the SLO Vets’ Hall, 801 Grand Ave. in San Luis Obispo. The first third of the meeting will be devoted to a California native seed exchange. If you have an interest in planting native seeds and/or have native seeds to share with others, you are asked to come prepared to participate. During the meeting, seed traders will share their tips on how to plant the seeds and grow the plants they brought to share.

    The second part of the meeting will feature presentations by local members, reporting on botanical places of interest they visited during the summer. Join us for refreshments (please bring a dessert to share) and some exciting photographs and stories of forays into the wild. If you would like to present some of your tales of discovery out in nature, bring your photos in a viewable format to the meeting, on a thumb drive, or you can e-mail your photos to David Chipping dchippin@calpoly.edu) 24 hours before the meeting. Show your pictures… plants. mountains, birds or anything you would like to share; 10-15 slides per person. Dave can also answer any questions about formatting your photos, noting that progressive title slide numbering or alphabetization works in preserving slide order.

  • 12

    9:00 am-1:00 pm

    We hope to see you there

  • 20

    8:00 am-12:00 pm

    Come explore the trails of the Irish Hills Reserve. Total distance of the hike is 6 miles, with a 900 ft. gain, taking about 3.hours. This trail passes through a wide-range of plant species growing on serpentinite-derived soils, unique to areas around San Luis Obispo. Meet at the trailhead located at the southern end of Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo. Bring water, snacks, and dress in layers for changing weather. A hat and sturdy shoes are advised. The plants, animals, and geology of the area will be discussed during the hike. Contact Bill, 805-459-2103. Rain Cancels.