Tiny magenta blossoms are scattered on stalks of narrow, straplike leaves that blend in with the coarse grasses of a pasture. In the afternoon, five fragile petals are spread wide around a handful of little yellow pollen-dusted stamens and a dainty three-parted pistil. Later, as dusk closes in, each bloom folds closed inside a clamshell pair of sepals, fringed with small hairs.
These are redmaids, or Calandrinia ciliata, a tremendously variable little native. The flowers range from the magenta shown here to violet to white, sometimes in the same patch of blooms. There are usually five petals but the size can vary widely (from 4 to 15mm); the number of stamens is also variable (from 3 to 15). The leaves can be linear or more paddle-shaped, and both leaves and sepals may be hairy or hairless.
So how do you know you’re looking at redmaids? The sepals are a solid clue–there aren’t many flowers with this feature. The three-parted ovary helps. But you also have to just mix-and-match the characteristics until you are confident that this is what you’re looking at!
Redmaids are common across the west, from New Mexico to BC. Indigenous people would eat the tender greens and make pinole and other foods from the oily seeds.