Plants - Indoor Plants

Oxalis: A trouble-free houseplant

Tovah Martin
Photography by
Kindra Clineff

Keep this potted plant in bright light and the leaves will happily open for you every morning

Oxalis can be divided into two categories: those with stems and those that come from bulbs or rhizomes. For oxalis with stems, flowers are pretty much an afterthought—it’s the foliage that really seals the deal for this plant. Most oxalis hold leaflets in groupings of three, making them dead ringers for shamrocks and infinitely marketable around Saint Patrick’s Day.

The foliar configurations are where similarities end, however. When the bright yellow-leaved, almost succulent stemmed Oxalis spiralis ssp. vulcanicola is not in bloom, you would be hard pressed to identify it as related to the equally charming but totally dissimilar tree oxalis (O. ortgiesii), with purple and burgundy triangular leaves on woody stems. And O. herrerae, with minute pea-green leaves initiating from woody stems, is also totally different. All three, however, are trouble-free, infinitely rewarding houseplants.

Beyond their demand for bright light, oxalis are troopers indoors. They keep their composure when you forget to water, but soggy doesn’t sit well with them. Give them a well-drained soil mix and don’t over-pot. They all do just fine with organic fertilizer, but be sure to cut off the feedings from October to March. Don’t panic when oxalis leaves fold downward after dark; this family trait just means they’ve closed up shop for the evening. The next morning they’ll be back to their normal rise-and-shine mode.

Main image caption: With a little shaping, the blushing golden leaves of Oxalis spiralis ssp. vulcanicola ‘Molten Lava’ form a tight, comely arrangement.

Excerpted with permission from The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home by Tovah Martin (Timberland Press, $23).

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