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Calandrinia is a genus of herbs with over 150 different species. These plants grow in arid or semi-arid regions and come in a wide range of colors. Several species are native to Chile, Australia and the western United States.
These colorful plants are dicot annuals which grow from seeds. Dicot refers to the fact that the seed produces two leaves when it germinates. The Calandrinia ambigua, also known as desert pot herb or desert redmaid, is found in California, Arizona and Mexico. It has bright pink blossoms and thick, tube-like leaves which lie close to the ground. The plant is so hardy that some areas of California have actually classified it as an invasive weed, though it is also cultivated in home flower gardens.
Over forty species are native to Australia. They all have grayish green leaves, and depending upon the variety, the blooms can be green, yellow, pink, or even purple. Australian aborigines use Calandrinia balonensis, also known as parakeelie or parakeelya, as food. They eat the roots, leaves and seeds cooked, raw or ground into a paste.
While the herb is edible, people who have a history of calcium/oxalate kidney stones may want avoid it. Oxalates are organic acids which occur naturally in people, animals and food. Generally, people have no problems digesting this acid, but in some instances the oxalate will link up with calcium and cause kidney stones in people whose digestive system is unable to process high quantities of oxalate.
Some Australian species are popular as grazing food for cattle and sheep. This is especially true in the arid outback. Although the plant is a good resource in an area with limited vegetation, there is some concern among veterinarians that the high oxalate level could be the cause of serious and even fatal instances of urinary track obstructions which occasionally occur in male sheep.
Calandrinia grandiflora, also known as Chilean rock purslane, is one of the varieties endemic to Chile. This is a taller version with flower stems that can reach up to three feet (.91 m) high. The brilliant reddish-purple blossoms make it an attractive feature for rocky gardens and the seeds are exported to be planted in arid regions around the world.
Calandrinia grows best in warm, sunny areas. Seed should be planted near the surface of sandy, well-drained soil in the spring once the danger of frost has passed. The plants are drought-resistant and generally do not require additional water. If you do water during extremely dry periods, make certain to let the ground dry out between watering. The hardy plants generally do not need any fertilizer or plant food.