WHITE OR TRUE WOOD~SORREL ALLELULA
(Oxalis acetosella) Wood-sorrel family
Flowers - White or delicate pink, veined with deep pink, about
1/2 in. long. Five sepals; 5 spreading petals rounded at tips; 10
stamens, 5 longer, 5 shorter, all anther-bearing; 1 pistil with 5
stigmatic styles. Scape: Slender, leafless,
1-flowered, 2 to 5
in, high. Leaf: Clover-like, of 3 leaflets, on long petioles from
scaly, creeping rootstock.
Preferred Habitat - Cold, damp woods.
Flowering Season - May-July.
Distribution - Nova Scotia and Manitoba, southward to North
Carolina. Also a native of Europe.
Clumps of these delicate little pinkish blossoms and abundant
leaves, cuddled close to the cold earth of northern forests,
usually conceal near the dry leaves or moss from which they
spring blind flowers that never open - cleistogamous the
botanists call them - flowers that lack petals, as if they were
immature buds; that lack odor, nectar, and entrance; yet they are
perfectly mature, self-fertilized, and abundantly fruitful.
Fifty-five genera of plants contain one or more species on which
these peculiar products are found, the pea family having more
than any other, although violets offer perhaps the most familiar
instance to most of us. Many of these species bury their
offspring below ground; but the wood-sorrel bears its blind
flowers nodding from the top of a curved scape at the base of the
plant, where we can readily find them. By having no petals, and
other features assumed by an ordinary flower to attract insects,
and chiefly in saving pollen, they produce seed with literally
the closest economy. It is estimated that the average blind
flower of the wood-sorrel does its work with four hundred pollen
grains, while the prodigal peony scatters with the help of wind
and insect visitors over three and a half millions!
Yet no plant, however economically inclined, can afford to
deteriorate its species through self-fertilization; therefore, to
overcome the evils of in-breeding, the wood-sorrel, like other
plants that bear cleistogamous flowers, takes special pains to
produce showy blossoms to attract insects, on which they
absolutely depend to transfer their pollen from flower to flower.
These have their organs so arranged as to make self-fertilization
Every child knows how the wood-sorrel "goes to sleep" by drooping
its three leaflets until they touch back to back at evening,
regaining the horizontal at sunrise - a performance most
scientists now agree protects the peculiarly sensitive leaf from
cold by radiation. During the day, as well, seedling, scape, and
leaves go through some interesting movements, closely followed by
Darwin in his "Power of Movement in Plants," which should be read
by all interested.
Oxalis, the Greek for sour, applies to all sorrels because of
their acid juice; but acetosella = vinegar salt, the specific
name of this plant, indicates that from it druggists obtain salt
of lemons. Twenty pounds of leaves yield between two and three
ounces of oxalic acid by crystallization. Names locally given the
plant in the Old World are wood sour or sower, cuckoo's meat,
sour trefoil, and shamrock - for this is St. Patrick's own
flower, the true shamrock of the ancient Irish, some claim.
Alleluia, another folk-name, refers to the joyousness of the
Easter season, when the plant comes into bloom in England.
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