Calandrinia menziesii (formerly Calandrinia ciliata), Redmaids, is a welcome and endearing first sign of spring. An early-blooming low-growing annual under 8" tall with a prostrate habit, its bright petals of intense magenta open wide in the sun. Likes full sun and lean soil. It has even flourished in subsoil left over from construction projects. In spite of its prostrate habit, it is remarkably resilient and manages to spread on its own, turning up in cultivated fields and inbetween vineyard rows.
Both the seeds and the glossy leaves are edible. Petals were used for rouge. It is widespread in California and was an important indigenous seedfood for most of California's tribes. The seed, frequently found in archaeological sites, was also an important trade item.
The oily jet-black seeds can be toasted and then ground. The oil allows it to be formed into small balls. We sometimes add sugar and butter to these confections. The leaves have an arugula-like tang and can be eaten raw.