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Cardamine californica has a bioregional distribution that includes Oregon, the California Floristic Province and Baja California. Elevations of occurrence are less than 1200 meters. Common habitats are shaded locations, particularly in canyons and woodlands.

With a common name Milkmaids, this perennial has rhizomes less than two centimeters long and is tuber-like. The stem rises to a mature height of 20 to 70 centimeters. Leaves exhibit leaflets or lobes of cauline leaves that are entire, wavy or dentate. The cauline leaves are alternate, with lower leaves long-petioled, and upper ones short-petioled to sessile. The inflorescence has flowers whose petals are nine to 14 millimeters long, and white to pale rose in color. This species is one of the earliest to bloom within its range.

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