Oxalis Redux

One plant I keep coming back to over and over, especially since our move north, is oxalis. I've written about this genus before and how I love its ease as a garden bulb, the way it provides textural foliage interest and satiny color when it blooms, the way some species of it persevere in dry, alkaline soil.

When my in-laws were here a couple weeks ago, the three of us headed over the Golden Gate to wander through Muir Woods. There, matted in jade tufts under the ruddy columns of redwood colonies, one of the California's few native oxalises, Oxalis oregana lives. The leaves of this species make perfect hearts that close in on themselves when too much sun breaks through the redwood canopy. They need the shade, moist fine leaf litter, and climate control of the giants above them, and when they do bloom, their blossoms are shy shells of veined white or palest pink. They're precious plants, lovely and tender.

On another day, we spent the afternoon in Half Moon Bay, just a hop over the spine of the Peninsula from where my husband and I now live. There, dramatic sweeps of the invasive weed Oxalis pes-caprae (aka Goat's Foot, Cape oxalis, and many other monikers) sported carpets of silky lemon blossoms. It's impossible for me to stand among these banks of yellow and not think of Wordsworth and his daffodils, the natural beauty that sustained him in times of pensive solitude.

Here, on the bluff above the ocean, these flowers shine, shine, shine. I know Oxalis pes-caprae is invasive—of it, Bay Area garden writer Pam Pierce writes, "Experienced gardeners say that it is unlikely you will ever get rid of Cape oxalis completely. In fact, some joke the best way to get rid of Cape oxalis is to move." Metaphorically, though, I admire the weed's tenacity and perseverance. It's blooming its head off in a new home, making this foreign bluff a joyful place, something its cousin who stays home in the safe shelter of others cannot do.


Unknown said…
Is it edible?
Christina said…
Oxalis is edible, in small quantities. The younger leaves are more tender. All varieties I've nibbled on have a pleasant, lemony flavor. However, they do contain oxalic acid, so it's best to use them as garnish rather than a main.
This year it's made it up my hillside. One I had planned for the hillside drought tolerant natives.

My question is this, can we live in harmony? I don't mind IT if IT doesn't mind living between the plants I've purposely cultivated. Either way you look at it, I'm always going to have something around and in between my plants. Oxalis over Devil's Weed is preferable.
Christina said…
Yes, it can live in harmony with your other plants, for sure, especially if the other plants are larger--succulents, or bushes, etc will definitely be able to live with Oxalis pes-caprae. However, if you want to slow down the spread, cut down the plants before the flowers go to seed. Yes, the plants will still create little bulbs, but the clumping then will be near the mother plant, rather than spread from here to kingdom come by seed.

As you know, it's really hard to get rid of, and you need to dig out the plant and the bulb(s) it grows from to eliminate it. If I were you, I'd pull out the plants at least along the "line" you want to keep. The bulbs will grow again next year, but they won't send up new growth this year, and the fact that you've pulled up the plant (the food source as photosynthesizer) will make it hard for what's left of the plant's roots to be able to create more bulbs.
thanks Christina -- I'll get on it
Christine O. said…
My chickens ate all of the Oxalis pes-caprae in my yard. Took them 2 years but I doesn't seem to be coming back this year. Good thing because I don't want to move.
John W. Wall said…
You might be interested in a recent article about this plant: https://westsideobserver.com/23/2-The-weed-that-endangers-native-San-Francisco-wildlife.php

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