Living In Clover
One of the holistic healing gurus—Dr. Andrew Weill, I think—has suggested
that one of the keys to wellness is surrounding yourself with flowers. I
like to expand that idea and surround myself with plants, particularly ones with
attractive and/or sweet-smelling blossoms. At the moment, my dining room
window seat contains a miniature double amaryllis with luminous white trumpets;
a kalanchoe that is just beginning to lose its last flowers after blooming for
the past four weeks; one pot of paperwhites that is nearly spent; another that
has only just begun to grow; and two pots of yellow paperwhites that will be
blooming next week. For fragrance I have a small lemon verbena and two
scented geraniums that I brought in from their outdoor homes before the first
frost. One geranium has leaves that smell faintly of roses and the other
has smaller leaves that smell strongly of pine.
It all adds up to a greenhouse-like environment that is very pleasant when
everything else is dry and chilly. All that moist soil generates a bit of
humidity, and I like to think that the plants help freshen the indoor air.
When planning an outdoor garden you have to think ahead to assure an
uninterrupted sequence of blooms. It’s the same with an indoor garden.
Today’s paperwhites will be gone in ten day’s time, so it’s important to
have something in the works for the day when the paperwhites hit the composter.
When I was grocery shopping the other day I noticed that the vast pyramids of
boxed amaryllis and paperwhite planting kits that dominated the displays before
Christmas have been replaced by boxed planting kits labeled “Pink Lucky
Clover” and “White Lucky Clover.” On closer inspection, these
“clovers” revealed themselves to be Oxalis, a low-growing plant that bears
clover-like leaves and small pink or white flowers. I have never seen them
packaged in this way before, but obviously those clever Dutch growers have found
yet another way to generate revenues in the weeks between the winter amaryllis
extravaganza and the spring buying bacchanal.
It doesn’t cost much to be adventurous with oxalis, so I bought one of the
little boxes of “Pink Lucky Clover” and brought it home. The
instructions, which were printed in French, German, English and Spanish,
identified the species as Oxalis Triangularis, obviously a reference to the
three-sided leaves that are born in clusters of three or sometimes four on the
plants. The leaves of “Pink Lucky Clover” appear to be purple or
burgundy colored, adding interest before the blooms open and after they finish.
Seeking guidance I looked up Oxalis Triangularis in that indispensable reference
book, Hortus III, and found that while the entry for Oxalis is about three
columns long, there is no reference at all for a “triangularis” species.
This may be because my copy of Hortus is somewhat out of date, but it is more
likely that “triangularis” is a term used only by the Dutch growers or their
copywriters. At any rate, my Oxalis is probably Oxalis purpurea ‘Grand
Duchesse’, which is native to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
Oxalis, which is also known as Wood Sorrel, is a member of the large Oxalidaceae
family, and is distantly related to Averrhoa, a South American tree that
produces the carambola, a fruit that has become popular in the last ten or
fifteen years. As with many botanical issues there is confusion.
Even though Oxalis is known as wood sorrel, it is not related to the sorrel that
the French and some Americans grow in their herb gardens. That particular
plant is known botanically as Rumex scutatus, and is, so to speak, a whole
different animal. It does however, make a tasty soup.
When I got my Oxalis home, I opened the box, found the set of directions that
were printed in English, and set to work. The box contained a small white
pot, several ounces of potting mixture and five tiny bulbs that looked like
miniature pinecones. As directed, I planted them 1” deep, watered the
potting mix, and set the planter in a sunny window. The directions do not
say how long the germination process will take, but they do reassure me that
Oxalis is “easy to grow indoors” with blooms that will last “many
months.” Aftercare of the plant is not mentioned.
Hortus suggests that after my plant blooms it should be placed in “a cellar”
for a resting period. The Time Life Plant Encyclopedia advises me to wait
until the foliage withers, then keep the bulbs in dry storage until fall.
After that I can propagate new plants from the bulblets that will form around
the parent bulbs. I will do my best to follow those instructions.
What with dormant amaryllis, slumbering oxalis and leftover seeds from last
year, my cellar planting area will soon take on the appearance of a plant
If memory serves, I believe that I remember seeing nursery-grown, green-leafed
Oxalis in the stores sometime around St. Patrick’s Day. While it may not
bring me “the luck of the Irish”, I am expecting that my “Pink Lucky
Clover” will be casting its spell just in time for Valentine’s Day.