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the vast pyramids of boxed amaryllis and paperwhite planting kits that dominated the displays before Christmas have been replaced by boxed planting kits labeled “Pink Lucky Clover” and “White Lucky Clover.”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 color, 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 dormitory.
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.
by E. Ginsburg