(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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