Try your luck at growing a shamrock

March 16, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Maybe a rose is a rose is a rose, but a shamrock is sometimes a clover - especially on St. Patrick's Day.

The original shamrock of Ireland is really white clover, Trifolium repens, and a member of the legume family. This is the kind that pops up in the yard, and draws children to their knees hunting for four leaves. Tradition says that the first three leaves represent faith, hope and love. It is the fourth leaf that represents luck.

Now the official Irish shamrock is Trifolium dubium. The yellow flowering plant is also a clover, and difficult to grow indoors. For this reason, florists and nurseries often sell true shamrocks, oxalis, around St. Patrick's Day. This group of plants include woodsorrels and are grown from bulbs.

The plants are perennials and, like the prayer plant, the leaves close up at night.

"They are fun to grow," said Molly Jacobus, owner of Molly's Flowers.


At her shop, she has three oxalis that are in bloom with white trumpet-shaped flowers. The plants come from South Africa and Central and South America, and so the sunny room attached to the shop is an ideal spot.

Jacobus said Danville doesn't have a large Irish community, and so St. Patrick's Day has never brought lots of people in search of shamrocks.

"We get a few," she said.

Oxalis can be a popular houseplant. One won the blue ribbon in the Boyle County Fair's houseplant competition last year. It is hardy and can be easy to grow.

Those who want a shamrock for the actual holiday will have better luck searching at a local florist. Local botanist Anne Lubbers said that it is too early to see clovers or shamrocks bloom outside.

The white clover may have leafed out, but the flowers won't be out yet. The most common shamrocks in the area are the common yellow oxalis and the violet woodsorrel. Other Kentucky species are creeping woodsorrel, great yellow woodsorrel, Illinois woodsorrel or the tufted yellow woodsorrel.

Some tips on growing the oxalis houseplant

Here are some tips for growing the oxalis houseplant:

* The plants like cool air, moist soil and bright sun. Avoid direct sun.

* Plant just under the surface of a slightly sandy houseplant soil.

* Oxalis grows from a bulb, and needs a period of dormancy. Every year the plant will need to rest.

* When it starts to lag, stop watering. Let the leaves turn brown. Pull them off. Set the pot in a cool, dry spot for two or three months. Purple-leafed varieties only need one month.

* After the plant's nap, resume watering and fertilize.

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