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March 3, 2010 > Pat Kite's Garden: Oxalis overview

Pat Kite's Garden: Oxalis overview

By Pat Kite

The Oxalis brilliant sun yellow has taken over a corner of my yard. I know this version, O. Corniculata, creeping oxalis, is a weed and I should hack it out with due diligence before it overcomes the rest of the garden. But it is so pretty, like sunshine after all this dismal weather.

There are about 500 Oxalis types, some have pink flowers, others violet-blue or rose- red. When visiting a friend recently, I saw some white ones like snow covering a neglected lawn. So, of course, to the embarrassment of my hostess, I bent down and pilfered one of the zillion. Maybe it will grow. Oxalis varieties are used in rock gardens, hanging baskets, and as shade ground covers to accompany ferns. This low-growing plant has ample alternate names. These include Cuckoo-bread, Cuckoo-flower, Cuckoo's bread and cheese, Alleluia, Sleeping Beauty [because its leaves fold up at night], Sleeping Molly, Wood Sorrel, Sour Clover, Bermuda Buttercup, Wood-Shamrock and just plain Shamrock.

It is possible, with St. Patrick's Day upcoming, that you might want to check it for a lucky 4-leaf status. Hunt away if you choose, but there are ample Shamrock varieties, especially Trifoliums and Saxifrage. The word Shamrock comes from the Irish word "seamrog," or clover. Shamrock roughly translates as "little clover." In Ireland and Scotland the clover initially was valued as a potent charm against witches and fairies. Later, thanks to Saint Patrick, Archbishop of Armagh, it became the Irish national emblem.

According to one tale, when Saint Patrick was preaching in Ireland, a pagan ruler captured him. He quickly reached down and plucked a shamrock. His explanation was that its three leaves were distinct and separate on the plant, "just as the Trinity is the union of three distinct persons in One Deity."

Now it is possible that while you may import decorative oxalis to your garden, you may also wish to get rid of the bright yellow weedy type. This is not so easy. Creeping oxalis has longish pods containing oodles of seeds that pop out amply. To eliminate you should dig out the entire plant, including the bulbous base. If you just yank out the leaves, which is my usual procedure after blooming finishes, the area will just simmer down until the following year. Whichever method, don't toss the gleanings into your mulch pile where you will possibly breed another bunch.

Onward to Saint Patrick's Day. In 1681, an English traveler wrote, "The 17th day of March yearly is St Patrick's, an immoveable feast when ye Irish of all stations and condicions wear crosses in their hats, some of pins, some of green ribbons, and the vulgar superstitiously wear shamroges."

Me, too.

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