Miner’s lettuce is an annual plant, which means it lives only one season. This plant is native to coastal areas and the western mountains of North America all the way from the southern parts of Alaska and central British Columbia to South America. They most common place to locate them is in California in both the San Joaquin and the Sacramento valleys.
Miner’s lettuce is considered a trailing plant. It can grow up to sixteen inches tall when fully mature but they can be as short as one half inch. That is an unusually large size difference in the plant world. The cotyledons (seed leafs) are a bright green in color with an occasional rare brownish green or lavender but this is rare. This succulent (water retaining plant) is long and narrow.The first true leaves form a rosette at the base of the stem and are only about a quarter of an inch long. Miner’s lettuce has a very long petiole (small stalk that connects the leaf blade to the stem). It is an impressive eight to nine inches long.
The blooms or flowers have five petals. They range from one to three quarters to two and a half inches long. The best time to see these flowers is between February and June. They grow in groups of five to forty blooms clustered together above a pair of leaves. The leaves are joined together around the stem giving them the appearance of being just one leaf. When the plant matures it will have several straight to spreading stems that will branch out from the base.
The Miner’s lettuce is commonly found in the spring and it prefers cool damp conditions and can grow in shady areas in uplands far into the early summer months. It will quite often appear after heavy spring rains in sunny spots.
When the leaves of the Miner’s lettuce dry out they turn to a beautiful deep red color.
While there are three subspecies of the Miner’s lettuce plants, these subspecies are not well recognized or defined. The more common name for the Miner’s lettuce plant was derived from the fact that the miners during the California gold rush used this plant for vitamin C to avoid getting scurvy. It can be eaten raw in a salad and is considered a leaf vegetable. It can also be boiled and eaten and is said to taste a lot like spinach.