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Creek Running North

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January 22, 2004

Miner's lettuce

I've been meaning since we moved here to score a bunch of miner's lettuce seed and strew it beneath the oak tree. The dog has kept me from doing so.

Miner's lettuce carpets many acres of our local hills only to die back when the heat comes in spring. It's easy to recognize: what were once opposite leaves, somewhere back in the species' ancestry, have merged into a disk with the stem growing through the center. This arrangement of leaf and stem is the source of the species name, Claytonia perfoliata. The common name is a relic of the Gold Rush.

I find it hard to picture the bright leaves of miner's lettuce without imagining drops of cold water, rain or dew or fog drip, caught against the stem. It's a seasonal marker around here, engulfing the Coast Ranges in winter and dying back when the temperatures stay above 70F for any great length of time. The presence of miners' lettuce fixes you in both place and time. It tastes like California winter, a hint of spinach and lettuce both, a slight oxalic acid tang. The leaves hold lots of vitamin C, and there's something about being in the winter hills and eating wild greens that acts as a vitamin for the soul, smelling the wet usnea lichen on the live oaks as it soaks up the oblique January sun.

The seed is relatively easy to come by, but the spot under the oak where I intend one day to scatter the seed is a bit of a sacrifice area for Zeke. There's no sense, I keep thinking, planting greens if I'm going to have to wash them for eight hours and then boil them before eating. Zeke is old, and when he's using that patch of ground from the other side I will give him a winter blanket of miner's lettuce and sit with him on January afternoons.

Until that sad day, we do have the garden beds. I bought a couple two-inch pots of miner's lettuce at a nursery last week, put them in the raised bed in the empty spot left by this month's frost-killed nasturtium, watered them deep, and went in to pet the dog.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 22, 2004 02:31 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs


I'm amused by the idea of planting miner's lettuce in raised beds. It's a good idea, just unexpected. I'm used to thinking of the plant as wild, only. Shows how arbitrary the lines can be, doesn't it? :)

Posted by: Rana at January 26, 2004 03:22 PM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs