Milkmaid: Sweet Herald of Spring
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 foreteller of spring. This year, I found it the earlier than ever before.
Difficult to photograph, this lovely little flower nestles in light woods and partial shade. The light flowers and dark leaves make focusing on it frustrating (don’t ask how many shots had to be discarded before I got this one). 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