Native Shamrocks

This leaf is from a Florida native plant. Can you guess which one?

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day, and while I am pretty much a mutt as far as heritage is concerned, there is Irish from both my Mother’s and Father’s sides of the family somewhere down the line. So, aye and begorrah, let’s talk Shamrocks. The Shamrock is a symbol of Ireland and a popular March holiday decoration. The association with Saint Patrick has roots in the Christianity when it is said that he used the shamrock to visually illustrate the concept of the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

White Clover (Trifolium repens, Irish: seamair bhán) or Lesser Clover (T. dubium, Irish: seamair bhuí) are the likely candidates considered to be “shamrocks”. Both are introduced species in the U.S. The word shamrock is derived from the common Irish word for clover. Tri means “three”, so the shamrock has three leaves. Of 16 species of Trifolium listed in the University of South Florida Institute of Systematic Botany (ISB) Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants*, only two are considered native to Florida. Neither species is listed as occurring in my county (Osceola), but that just may be that specimens haven’t been submitted as yet. Those two are Carolina Clover (T. carolinianum) and Buffalo Clover (T. reflexum).

Yellow Woodsorrel looks close enough to shamrocks for me.

So, should my garden be left out of the wearing o’ the green? I think not. Here in Florida we have a perfectly good Shamrock substitute and right now it is prolific in my front meadow-type area. It is Common Yellow Woodsorrel a.k.a. Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata). This can be quite aggressive but it provides quick ground coverage and serves as an early nectar source for our buzzing and winging friends since it shows up in January when not a lot of other nectar plants are in bloom. It has pretty little yellow flowers that certainly bring brightness as the drab winter garden comes back to life. It’s yet another of those perplexing situations for me where this pretty flower is considered a weed to be killed and bahiagrass is considered a thing to be cultivated. Perhaps understandable if you own livestock (read further), but in the home landscape? PULLLEEASE! I’m still scratching my head.

Bright yellow against a pretty green, it is an early nectar source

According to USDA, this species occurs in a good part of North America, except for a few states in the upper mid-west. In the USDA database it is shown to be native in the U.S. states where it is found but Calflora disputes that and states (rather emphatically) that it is not native, even invasive in California. Consider this as reasons to pay close attention to scientific names and to check with local authoritative sources since they likely know best what is affecting regional naturalized areas. What is good for one state may not be acceptable in another. California has many other very pretty choices in this Genus, one even considered rare. Do your homework beyond the USDA database when making planting decisions about what stays or goes!

Here in Florida there is another native Tufted Yellow Woodsorrel (O. macrantha), and several non-native Oxalis species but they don’t seem to live at my place.

In small quantities this Shamrock substitute is said to be edible and has ethnobotanical uses. Use caution since the foliage contains oxalic acid, which binds calcium leading to nutritional deficiencies in livestock and humans. I also read that Oxalis spp. are used as a poison in Australia, India, Spain, & Turkey, so I think I’ll pass the greens.

I don't understand the urge to kill this in favor of grass

As luck would have it I haven’t found any four-leaf Woodsorrel…I guess that would be lack of luck. Seems the theory behind a four-leaf clover is that the first leaf stands for faith, the second represents hope, the third love, and the not-often found fourth is LUCK!

I’ll still feel lucky that I have a little something in the garden to humor me on this holiday. I hope you all enjoy Saint Pat’s Day in your beautiful wildlife garden, too.

*I use the ISB Atlas as the authority to determine nativity of plants in Florida.

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  1. says

    We used to get the much bigger sorrel out in the woods and Oregon, and I must admit, I munched on it all the time. It’s extremely sour and tangy, so it’d be difficult to eat in large quantity anyway, but I escaped unscathed. (Well, except for the mutant superpowers, and that could have been the radiation.)
    Ursula Vernon recently posted..Amplexus!

    • says

      I thought I noticed a glow ;) Since most of the sorrel grows in the dog’s play area, I’m a little reluctant to be tasting it without a good wash, if you know what I mean!

      oh…and special thanks for shaking your fist at my starling over at my personal blog. She doesn’t seem to be paying attention, but it is the effort that counts!
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Crap!

  2. says

    I like your clover, Loret :-) The Common Yellow Woodsorrel looks just like Irish clover to me and the yw blooms are adorable. So this one grows in the woods by your house then? That means you are lucky. Now I’m off to investigate what kind of clover we have in California.. wish me LUCK!

    • says

      Hi Kathy,

      it grows all over my property that kept low cut for the dogs to play in. I do feel lucky to live where no one complains that I have “weeds” in my yard. If it is green, to me that is good enough. It’s really a plus that most of what is out there is native….naturally occuring. California seemed to have a few native clovers and sorrells, so I’m sure you’ll find one…but beware, they like to fill in everywhere but in my meadow, it is balanced with native grasses and other “weedy” but important plants…a lot of which are larval hosts for our butterflies and moths….and the excess caterpillars work well as bird food ;)
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Crap!

  3. says

    Well, Phil, you taught me a lot just now. Spinach is my favorite veggie both raw and steamed. I have to take calcium supplements, so I better be sure that the days I eat my fav that I don’t forget to take the pills well before my meal. Thanks for stopping by. I love the comments because I learn too!
    Loret T. Setters recently posted..Crap!

  4. says

    I have that lovely introduced white clover everywhere…would rather have this…it doesn’t show in my county but I think I do see it…we also have a 1ft high native oxalis that is quite lovely…love these shamrocks more than the white clover Loret..thx for sharing!!


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