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How to Care for an Oxalis Plant

Close up image of growing hot pink oxalis flowers in the garden

Genus Oxalis

There is a collection of flowering plants that people often mistake for being weeds. Plants that grow profusely and without hinderance are often mistaken as being weeds that should be gotten rid of, but that is a horrible misjudgement!

Some plants in this collection of faux-weeds are dandelions, daisies, and oxalis plants! Not many people know that both dandelions and oxalis plants are not only good for the soil, but they have a ton of medicinal and culinary benefits as well!

Oxalis plants have some other common names you can refer to them by, like wood sorrel, false shamrock, sourgrass, good luck plant, or love plant. They are part of a huge botanical family called oxalidaceae, which contains over 500 species!

Throughout this article we will go through all of the most important information on this wonderful flowering plant, including what they look like, how to care for them, and some of the most popular varieties used in gardens.

What do Oxalis Plants Look Like?

Beautiful oxalis plant with yellow flowers and burgundy foliage

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the earth, oxalis plants grow from underground bulbs. Oxalis bulbs basically act as quaint little storage facilities that help the plant survive harsh conditions, like drought or freezing temperatures.

From here, the plant has a mounding growth habit with short stems and low growing leaves. This plant can reproduce vegetatively by bulbils which detach to produce new plants, or it can reproduce by seed dispersal as well.

Leaves

Oxalis’ are one of those plants that are just as much grown for their attractive foliage as they are for their flowers. Though leaf shape and color will vary slightly from species to species, they are mostly shape like either triangles or hearts.

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Oxalis leaves are comprised of multiple leaflets that are either heart shaped or trifoliate. They are known for being very similar to that of clover leaves, hence why they’re called “false shamrock” or “st patrick leaf”.

Leaf color is also quite ornamentally appealing, with varieties coming with foliage of emerald green, deep maroon, and some even have variegated patterns.

Incredible dark purple oxalis foliage

Another very cool feature of oxalis foliage is the way that it moves. These plants abide by something called nyctinasty, which is a rhythmic circadian nastic movement that the plant responds to according to light exposure.

When it is a particularly cloudy day or when night time arrives, oxalis leaves will actually fold down like an umbrella. When the sun comes out again, the leaves will perk back up.

Flowers

Depending on the species, oxalis flowers will grow either as perennials or annuals, meaning that they will either continue to blossom year after year, or they will experience one flowering period and then perish.

Though flower color will vary, oxalis flowers usually have 5 petals that will often close at night time or on cloudy days. An oxalis flower will be any shade occurring between white, pink, red, yellow, orange, and some are even two-toned.

Gardeners tend to love these flowering plants because they are virtually “ever-blooming”. They can basically bloom all year long in warmer regions, but tend to show their most enthusiastic blooming in the early spring and late fall. Plants will usually rest and go dormant in the heat of the summer.

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What are some Oxalis Species?

Focus image on yellow sorrel oxalis flower around burgundy foliage

Southern Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Dillenii)

Otherwise known as the slender yellow woodsorrel, o dillenii is a species of flowering plant that is native to North America.

O Dillenii can be identified by its clover like leaves and bright yellow flowers or green flowers that fold into themselves on cloudy days and in the evening.

False Shamrock (Oxalis Triangularis)

Oxalis triangularis is a perennial plant that is native to South America, though is very commonly grown as an indoor houseplant all over the world.

False shamrock plant can be identified by its trifoliate leaves that are a deep maroon color. Leaves close like an umbrella at night time, along with their pale pink, 5 petalled flowers.

Creeping Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Corniculata)

Also known as yellow wood sorrel or sleeping beauty, oxalis corniculata is a herbaceous perennial that is native to southeastern Asia and beyond.

O corniculata can be identified by its creeping habit comprised of leaflets similar to clover leaves, and bright yellow flowers that are actually flavored like lemon!

Chilean Oxalis (Oxalis Adenophylla)

Also known as silver shamrock, pink buttercups, or pink carpet oxalis, this cold hardy plant is native to Chile and Argentina, and grows profusely in the Andes.

Oxalis adenophylla can be identified by its dense clump of grey/green leaves that are shaped like hearts. They also bear open faced white flowers with a purple flush.

Iron Cross (Oxalis Tetraphylla)

Called iron cross, lucky clover, four leaf sorrel, or four leaved pink sorrel, this oxalis species is native to Mexico and is a very popular ornamental plant.

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Oxalis tetraphylla can be identified by its leaves divided into 4 leaflets that close at night. These leaves have a characteristic burgundy splotch across the centre that create a cross-like pattern. They also bear bright pink flowers.

Candy Cane Sorrel (Oxalis Versicolor)

Amazing image of candy cane sorrel flowers blooming in the garden

Candy cane sorrel is an absolutely incredible garden cultivar that is almost unbelievable looking. This plant is native to South Africa and is a bulbous perennial plant.

Oxalis versicolor can be identified from its fresh green heart shaped leaves, or most obviously from its incredible white flower petals with a scarlet edge. They turn ever so slightly and create an incredible candy cane stripe appearance.

Lucky Shamrock (Oxalis Regnellii)

Oxalis regnellii (sometimes referred to as the purple shamrock) is a South African plant that can be identified by its triangular foliage in either purple or red, and dainty white flower blossoms.

Oca (Oxalis Tuberosa)

Oxalis tuberosa is a very popular commercially grown plant, as it is known for having the tastiest roots, foliage, and flowers. They are grown all over Mexico, New Zealand, and Colombia as vegetables!

Oca can be identified by its low growing, shamrock leaves and bright white flowers that open and close according to the positioning of the sun. Some even call this one the common wood sorrel because it’s such a well known plant type.

Purple Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Purpurea)

The purple wood sorrel is a native plant to Southern Africa, and it a very popular garden plant that seems to bloom for the entire summer.

Oxalis purpurea can be identified by its dark green, low growing leaflets that are covered in fine hairs. A solitary purple flower emerges from a peduncle.

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Violet Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Violacea)

The violet wood sorrel is a native plant to many parts of North America, and is both a prolific wild flower as well as a garden grown variety.

Oxalis violacea can be identified by its heart shaped leaves and white flowers with pale green centres that are better revealed when the flowers close at night.

Where is Oxalis a Native Plant?

Wild low growing oxalis plants in a forest

With so many oxalis species running around all over the place, it is hard to distinguish exactly where they are considered native plants! All we know is that they naturally occur pretty much everywhere on the planet except for the polars.

That being said, it is important for a gardener to know exactly where a plant calls home, because that better prepares them to be able to keep them happy elsewhere.

Oxalis plants occur everywhere, but there is a particularly rich diversity in North America, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico. They tend to thrive in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions (particularly in British Columbia).

Oxalis plants will happily exist outdoors all year long in USDA zones 7 through 10, but should be brought indoors for the winter outside of those zones. This can be done either through digging up bulbs, or by just planting them in movable containers or pots.

What are the Growing Conditions of Oxalis Plants?

Now that we have all of the necessary basic information, it is time for you to learn just how easy it is to care for an oxalis patch of your very own! Oxalis care can seamlessly be incorporated into your regular gardening routine, but here are a few pointers:

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Gorgeous blooming oxalis plants in the summer in a meadow

Soil Type

Though these resilient plants can adapt to many different soil types, there are a few features that your soil can have to ensure that your plant is as happy as possible.

Oxalis plants prefer to live in very well draining soil and are used to growing in the wild in sandy soil. They aren’t picky when it comes to acidity, but they do like to live in fertile soil as well.

Both of these can easily be accomplished by incorporating some compost at the beginning of the growing season. This will not only improve drainage, but will raise the nutrient content of the soil too!

Sun Exposure

Oxalises are sun adoring plants. This means that they will bloom the most enthusiastically when they are planted in direct sunlight or indirect bright light.

They are able to tolerate partial shade, but this can sometimes result in issues with water not evaporating quickly enough and the soil becoming soggy (which they do not like).

Water Level

Watering an oxalis plant will not take up too much time in your day. Thanks to those trust tuberous bulbs, they are easily able to withstand periods of drought.

Usually, natural precipitation will be more than enough moisture for them to be happy, but if there is an extended period of no rain, they should be watered.

A good rule of thumb for watering is to just let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Just stick a finger in the soil to see if it is still moist a few inches below.

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Gorgeous bright pink oxalis flowers

Temperature

The temperature tolerance of an oxalis plant will vary greatly from species to species. There are some that are very cold hardy, and others that don’t even like a little bit of frost (and temperatures regularly dipping below 50)!

Many of the species will be comfortable in USDA zones 7 through 10, though there are some that can survive in zones 5 and 6 as well. Most plants tend to perform best in temperatures ranging between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Though it is by no means necessary for them to thrive, oxalis plants don’t mind a little bit of fertilizer. This can be accomplished either through applying a slow release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season, or amending the soil with compost.

Pruning

If you don’t like to prune, the oxalis plant is the one for you. They have a very neat and tidy growth habit and don’t need to be pruned unless you like to pick away dying foliage or spent flowers.

You can also attempt to deadhead all of the oxalis flowers before they are able to produce seed in attempt to control the spread — but there are many flowers, so it may be time consuming.

How do you Propagate an Oxalis Plant?

Beautiful iron cross foliage oxalis plant

The final step to learning about oxalis plants is learning about how to propagate a patch of your very own! Once they are planted, they are pretty much there to say.

We’re going to go through propagation by planting bulbs, but you can plant from seed or cuttings, too. Here are a few very simple steps to get you going:

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1. Wait until the early spring to plant your bulbs, until the last threat of frost has passed.

2. Pick a spot on your property that has well draining soil and receives full sun exposure.

3. Dig holes about 2 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart from one another. Cover lightly with soil, as the bulbs like sunlight.

4. Water thoroughly and keep soil moist as the plants are first getting established. Leaves should start to appear in 3-4 weeks, and flowers should blossom in a mere 8-10 weeks!

How are Oxalis Plants Used?

Amazing purple foliage and white flowers of an oxalis plant

Edible Plant

The roots of an oxalis plant have been cultivated as basically a vegetable for many many centuries, and all over the world. They are consumed both for culinary purposes and for their health benefits as well.

Native American communities all over North America have a long history of eating oxalis plants. Kiowa peoples chew the foliage to alleviate thirst, and Potawatomi peoples will cook them down with sugar to make a dessert.

Algonquin peoples actually eat the roots and flowers as a type of aphrodisiac, and Cherokee peoples would chew on the wood to help alleviate sore throats. Iroquois used it more medicinally to help with cramps and fevers.

Oca is grown commercially all over South America as a vegetable, and folks in New Zealand actually even refer to it as a yam! The leaves are also known for being very high in vitamin C, and was traditionally eaten to help ward off scurvy!

Ornamental Plant

Though gardeners will easily get annoyed with oxalis plants because they grow so quickly and can very quickly take over an area, there are tons of benefits to growing oxalis.

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They make both an incredible houseplant or outdoor plant that can be grown in a container, pot, or directly in the earth. They come in a huge variety of colors and shapes and are wonderfully easy to care for.

Once you can get back their quickly spreading growth habit and appreciate them for what they are, they will no longer be considered as a weed, and instead an incredible edible flowering plant!

White flowers of the oxalis plant shining in the sun

FAQs

Are oxalis plants deer resistant?

Larger pests like deer, squirrels, and rabbits tend to avoid grazing on foliage that is covered in hairs or that is particularly fragrant. This means that they tend to entirely avoid nibbling on oxalis plants!

What are the damaging agents to oxalises?

Most of the damage that oxalis plants will experience comes from being planted in soil that isn’t well draining or soil that is water saturated.

Are oxalis plants perennials or annuals?

There are over 500 different species of oxalis plants. Some of them will grow as perennial plants that blossom every spring, and some will grow as annual plants that will perish after a single flowering period.

Do oxalis plants grow from bulbs?

Starting underneath the earth, oxalis plants grow from underground bulbs. Oxalis bulbs basically act as quaint little storage facilities that help the plant survive harsh conditions, like drought or freezing temperatures

What are some other common names for oxalis plants?

Oxalis plants have some other common names you can refer to them by, like common wood sorrel, false shamrock plant, sourgrass, good luck plant, or love plant. They are part of a huge botanical family called oxalidaceae, which contains over 500 species!

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Can you harvest oxalis seeds?

Oxalis seeds can easily be harvested by opening a seed capsule once it has dried and collecting the seeds. Soak the seeds overnight to help them in their germination process.

Are oxalis plants weeds?

There is a collection of flowering plants that people often mistake for being weeds. Plants that grow profusely and without hinderance are often mistaken as being weeds that should be gotten rid of, but that is a horrible misjudgement!

Some plants in this collection of faux-weeds are dandelions, daisies, and oxalis plants! Not many people know that both dandelions and oxalis plants are not only good for the soil, but they have a ton of medicinal and culinary benefits as well!

Can oxalis plants be grown in pots?

Oxalis bulbs can easily be planted in pots or containers as long as they have proper drainage holes and are placed in an area that receives enough sunlight.

Can oxalis plants survive the winter?

The temperature tolerance of an oxalis plant will vary greatly from species to species. There are some that are very cold hardy, and others that don’t even like a little bit of frost (and temperatures regularly dipping below 50)!

Many of the species will be comfortable in USDA zones 7 through 10, though there are some that can survive in zones 5 and 6 as well. Most plants tend to perform best in temperatures ranging between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do oxalis plants tolerate partial shade?

Oxalises are sun adoring plants. This means that they will bloom the most enthusiastically when they are planted in direct sunlight or indirect bright light.

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They are able to tolerate partial shade, but this can sometimes result in issues with water not evaporating quickly enough and the soil becoming soggy (which they do not like).

Are oxalis plants edible?

The roots of an oxalis plant have been cultivated as basically a vegetable for many many centuries, and all over the world. They are consumed both for culinary purposes and for their health benefits as well.

Native American communities all over North America have a long history of eating oxalis plants. Kiowa peoples chew the foliage to alleviate thirst, and Potawatomi peoples will cook them down with sugar to make a dessert.

Algonquin peoples actually eat the roots and flowers as a type of aphrodisiac, and Cherokee peoples would chew on the wood to help alleviate sore throats. Iroquois used it more medicinally to help with cramps and fevers.

Oca is grown commercially all over South America as a vegetable, and folks in New Zealand actually even refer to it as a yam! The leaves are also known for being very high in vitamin C, and was traditionally eaten to help ward off scurvy!

When is the best time of year to plant oxalis?

The best time of year to plant an oxalis plant is in the early spring, after the last threat of frost has passed.

How tall does an oxalis plant get?

Oxalis plants are rather short and will rarely grow past a mounding habit of a few inches.

How often should an oxalis be watered?

Watering an oxalis plant will not take up too much time in your day. Thanks to those trust tuberous bulbs, they are easily able to withstand periods of drought.

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Usually natural precipitation will be more than enough moisture for them to be happy, but if there is an extended period of no rain, they should be watered.

A good rule of thumb for watering is to just let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Just stick a finger in the soil to see if it is still moist a few inches below.

Do oxalis plants need fertilizer?

Though it is by no means necessary for them to thrive, oxalis plants don’t mind a little bit of fertilizer. This can be accomplished either through applying a slow release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season, or amending the soil with compost.

What USDA zones can oxalis live in?

Oxalis plants occur everywhere, but there is a particularly rich diversity in North America, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico. They tend to thrive in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions (particularly in British Columbia).

Oxalis plants will happily exist outdoors all year long in USDA zones 7 through 10, but should be brought indoors for the winter outside of those zones. This can be done either through digging up bulbs, or by just planting them in movable containers or pots.

Why do oxalis leaves close at night?

Another very cool feature of oxalis foliage is the way that it moves. These plants abide by something called nyctinasty, which is a rhythmic circadian nastic movement that the plant responds to according to light exposure.

When it is a particularly cloudy day or when night time arrives, oxalis leaves will actually fold down like an umbrella. When the sun comes out again, the leaves will perk back up.

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