Fresh and blushing pale pink like an English Milkmaid, Cardamine californica is the first wildflower to bloom on our land. Every year around the middle of February, I find this dainty forerunner of spring. This year, I found it earlier than ever before— even earlier than last year.
Difficult to photograph, it nestles low at the edge of woods and in partial shade. The light flowers and dark leaves make focusing on it frustrating. Known to most locals by its nickname, Milkmaid, that designation is a problem. Many different flowers in many places are called by that title. Worse, many seemingly different plants go by the label, Cardamine californica, each area has a variation on the plant— so that an area of Southern California might have a version that grows to a foot tall and has white flowers while ours rarely reaches 8 inches and is usually a pale pink.
I have heard that the leaves are similar to watercress and can be used in salads. I’m so reluctant to harm such a beauty that I’ve never tried it out. Besides, another nickname, Bitter Cress, deters me.
Not only is the plant beautiful in itself but butterflies love it. Often on warmish days in February, an odd drowsy butterfly surprised to find itself awake so prematurely flutters around the blooming maid delighted to find a food source so early in the year. Yesterday, like the drowsy butterfly, I hovered round the flower drinking in the promise of Spring.
(Alert readers might notice that yesterday it was snowing and there were no butterflies but I stole the writing —but not the photo—from last year. I feel slightly shamefaced about palming off the writing but I have nothing new to say. On the other hand, my photo is much improved from 12 months ago.)