Grow a Shamrock (Oxalis) Rainbow for St. Patty’s Day (A wood sorrel guide)

March 14, 2024

I’m finding the ever-increasing variety of oxalis  (commonly called Shamrocks or Wood Sorrel) available to gardeners very inspiring. In the last decade (or so) it seems like the color and shape choices have exploded – there is – literally – a whole rainbow of elegant and interesting options.    

So, in honor of all things St. Patrick, leprechauns, and pots of gold, I felt compelled to make an actual rainbow for you…

A rainbow of flowers in the shape of a shamrock.
A rainbow of oxalis varieites. Wood sorrel comes in an ever increasing selection of colors. Includes Oxalis zinfandel, oxalis triangularis and oxalis crassipes. images from Proven Winners.  

A Rainbow of oxalis Plant list:

From red and pink, to yellow-orange, green, and purple/black these are elegant plants for rock gardens (if you live in zone 9 or above). I think they are particularly nice in a scree garden where gravel can really highlight the charm of these plants.

And for many northern gardeners they are great in seasonal containers and as houseplants. Each could easily fill a container – mix and match colors with funky pots for a more clever design.

Though they are generally considered annuals (unless you are above zone 9), you can winter them over inside.  Stash them in a dark spot late in the year and let them rest –  90% of the plant will die off,  but late in the winter, you can put them in a sunny window and when the days get long enough they will send up a new leaves, a cool sign that spring is on the way.  It only takes a few weeks after that before the pot is covered with leaves.

When you buy them out of season, they will generally arrive as a small packet of forbs (like bits of root stock). All you have to do is put them in a little bit of soil they will start to grow. I like to put 4-5 in a about and 8-inch container for a full mounded pot of pretty leaves.

A close up of four leaf clovers.
oxalis by Mary Shattock

Can you Eat Wood Sorrel?

Oxalis is poisonous to small animals, dogs, cats, and horses and it can damage their livers.

Most of these plants are native to temperate regions in South and Central America, but oxalis stricta (which I don’t feature here) is generally acccepted as a native to most every state in the USA and across Canada. Oxalis stricta, also known as common yellow woodsorrel, is typically regarded as a weed in most gardens and it can be difficult to get rid of if you don’t want it.

The plant  is edible for humans – the leaves, flowers, and stem of most sorrel are edible. They taste bitter and sour and could be describes as similar to apple peel or lemon. The colorful leaves can be added to salads, soups, and other dishes for added flavor and nutrition. It does however contain oxalic acid, which can prevent calcium absorption, so it should be avoided in large quantities. 

A group of purple leaves with a white flower.
Charmed wine shamrock oxalis – by Forest and Kim Starr

Charmed Wine Oxalis

Charmed Wine Oxalis is a captivating plant that enchants with its deep burgundy foliage and delicate pink blooms. Its richly colored leaves provide striking contrast and visual interest, making it a standout feature in mixed plantings or as a focal point in garden beds. Oxalis Charmed Wine thrives in partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil.

Three pink flowers are blooming in a green field.
Cottage pink wood Sorrel (oxalis). Some are charmed by the cottage-y vibes of this pretty plant, others consider it a hardy weed. Image by Colin

Cottage Pink Wood Sorrel (Oxalis crassipes)

Cottage Pink Wood Sorrel Oxalis offers dainty pink blooms that dance atop delicate stems. Its compact growth habit makes it ideal for small gardens or as a groundcover, spreading gently to form attractive mats of foliage and blooms. Cottage Pink Wood Sorrel thrives in partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil, making it a versatile choice for various garden settings. With proper care, this charming plant will blooms almost continuously throughout the growing season.

A plant with many leaves.
Oxalis spiralis ssp vulcanicola image by Gardening Solutions

Molten Lava™ Oxalis vulcanicola

Molten Lava™ Oxalis vulcanicola is a striking plant that ignites the garden with its vibrant foliage reminiscent of molten lava. Its leaves feature a fiery blend of red, orange, and yellow hues, creating a stunning contrast against its surroundings. This compact perennial adds a pop of color to borders, rock gardens, or containers. With its low-growing, mounding habit, Molten Lava™ Oxalis vulcanicola forms dense clumps, providing an eye-catching groundcover or accent plant. It thrives in partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil.

A group of white flowers and green leaves.
The leaves of oxalis triangularlis ‘Jade’ have a distinctive pewter or silvery sheen. Image from Plant Delights Nursery

Charmed Jade Shamrock Oxalis traingularis

Charmed Jade Shamrock Oxalis boasts charming green miniature shamrock foliage. This compact perennial features delicate, triangular leaves with a distinctive silver green hue. Its has a trailing habit, making it perfect for cascading over the edges of pots or hanging baskets. Charmed Jade Shamrock Oxalis thrives in partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil and it is non-weedy.

A small yellow flower is growing on a rock.
The pretty yellow orange flowers of Oxalis vulcanicola ‘zinfandel’ are framed by deep burgundy foliage. by SoulRider.222 / Eric Rider

Zinfandel™ Oxalis vulcanicola

Zinfandel™ Oxalis vulcanicola, with its striking foliage reminiscent of deep red wine, adds a vibrant and unique touch to any garden or container. This low-growing perennial features shamrock-shaped leaves in shades ranging from burgundy to purple, creating a rich and dramatic visual effect. Its compact growth habit makes it ideal for edging pathways, spilling over containers, or accentuating rock gardens. Zinfandel Oxalis vulcanicola thrives in partial shade to full sun and well-drained soil.

A black background with white flowers on it.
Charmed Velvet Oxalis image from Proven Winners

Charmed Velvet oxalis

Charmed Velvet Oxalis is diffuclut to find, but you will know it when you see it. It has very dark burgundy leaves (that look nearly black) that have a velvet -like sheen. The dainty white flowers are beautifully offset by the inky background.

Crocus, daffodils, daffodils, daffodils, daffo.
A small collection of oxalis grown indoors as potteed housplants. (pictured with purple crocus). This image was found at Klau Club where you can scroll through a huge selection of oxalis varieites to get a full sense of the many different shapes, sizes, colors and paint paterns of the leaves of these charming plants.

The world of oxalis is a endless. This selection of varieities barely scratches the surface of varieites availabe. I could easily see how someone could become a collector of these charming plants.

More Oxalis inspiration as well as other garden treats:

REgister now!

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