Episode 107: Oxalis triangularis aka false shamrock
Jane: Hello and welcome to episode 107 of On the Ledge Podcast. Whether your house plants number just one or 100 or maybe even 1,000, I am here to help and inspire you to make your plants happy.
Jane: I'm back from my break, I bet you're glad to hear my voice, well I hope you are anyway. It's been an exciting week so far, I got my Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 certificate in horticulture exam results for the first half of the course and I'm delighted to say that I passed! And I even got a commendation. I am very happy, in fact I might go as far as to say "Yee haa!" Or for the English listeners, "Oh, well, yes, that's very good, I'm very happy about that, thank you." Anyway, enough tooting of my own trumpet.
In this week's episode I will be giving you an update on how my house plants have done when they've been left home alone for two weeks and I'll also be extolling the delights of one of my favourite houseplants Oxalis triangularisand I'll be answering a listener question about something rotten at the heart of a bird's nest fern.
Jane: While I've been away several of you have left lovely reviews for me on your pod app of choice, thanks to Red Annie who says On The Ledge is the "perfect drive time length obsession", Annie is new to plants and was looking for some extra help in learning about things green and indoors and stumbled upon On The Ledge, they say: "It's so good, it covers everything I've been wondering about and more."
JennyLovesNature described On The Ledge as an "upbeat podcast about everything house plant" and apparently I'm a "lovely host". Thank you. JennieLovesNature loves the way this show "brings together listeners of all ages and from across the world to share the house plant love". I am loving that description, that's exactly what I had in mind, thank you JennieLovesNature.
And Whirlyboy4321 loves how I stay specifically on the topic of house plants. Whirly says that they have "listened to a few other podcasts but they tend to go off on tangents about their lives or non-house plant topics and can be a bit long-winded. Jane is succinct but not rushed at all". Thank you Whirlyboy4321. Just hang on a minute while I get rid of this lengthy anecdote about Wolfie in this week's episode, okay, just give me a minute, let's go on. And after listening to episode 105 about house plants for beginners, Dan got in touch to tell me that he has actually seen Crassula Ovata'Ogres Ears' in the flesh, which was very exciting because this is a plant, as I said in the episode, that I haven't actually seen in person before. Dan writes: "I hadn't either until I visited a friend of a friend that has a huge one, needless to say I went home with some and now I have a few little ones," lucky you Dan, I'm feeling very jealous. How exciting when you get to see a plant that you've been wondering and dreaming about for so long in the flesh, usually it's not a disappointment but occasionally it might be and even better when you can take home some cuttings, well done to the friend of a friend.
Finally, Sandy got in touch with a very, very useful top tip to deal with my issue with converting centigrade to fahrenheit and Sandy says: "The easiest way to convert is if it's 25C, then do 25 times two, plus 30," so 25C is more or less 80F probably a bit less. So let's work this out. So if it was 10C, it would be 10 times two, 20, plus, 30, 50 degrees fahrenheit. I'm just going to check, let's check that's actually right. Yes! It works. Awesome Sandy, thanks very much. Helpfully Sandy also provides the conversion back the other way for those Americans who struggle to get fahrenheit back into centigrade. So if it's 100F, then it's 100 take away 30, divided by two. So 35C. That really does work. So you times it by two and add 30, to convert centigrade to foresight and take away 30 and divide by two for fahrenheit to centigrade, that's so simple, I've just got to get that fixed in my brain now. Thank you Sandy and I hope that's helped a few other people as well.
Jane: Now there's a moment when you come back through the front door from holiday when you wonder what is going to greet you. Will your house have been burgled? Will the slugs have found their way under the back door and been munching on everything in your fridge? Or will an unexpected power cut have left everything in your freezer in a stinking mess? I guess I've got a bit of an overactive imagination when it comes to what goes on in my house while I'm away. I did come back to twelve bottles of cottage cheese rather than milk because I forgot to cancel my milkman. Delicious! But much more important than that how had my house plants faired?
I left mine for two whole weeks to go on holiday with my family and, while we had a wonderful time, I did miss them while I was gone and I was very relieved to come back and find that they were all still alive. Many of them I just left in their usual locations, watered them well before I went away and they were absolutely fine when I came back but some of the more sensitive and thirsty subjects ended up in the shower base of my office bathroom on top of a towel. Here's what I discovered when I went to check on them.
Jane:So I've been away in Wales for two weeks and a lot of my house plants got left here in the office in the bottom of the shower on a damp towel and now I'm back to find out how they've got on. Well, the first thing to say is a baby snail has decided to do some damage to my Primulina.I think this snail either came in on one of the plants or possibly was already here because I do have a bit of an issue with snails coming in through the window into here. You can hear Wolfie is coming in to see what I'm up to. Hi Wolf.
Most of the plants look absolutely fine. They've all grown, my Primulina hisakois actually looking very well, so that's good, because that plant had been looking a bit miserable. So sometimes you can come back from holiday and find that the plants have actually improved because they've all been packed together in a small space, lots of humidity and the benefits of being clumped together like that will produce some good results for some plants. I'll post a picture of this in my show notes so you can see what I'm talking about.
So I've got lots of plants in here that are absolutely fine, nothing has wilted, so the towel has worked, the towel is still damp and it stinks to be quite frank. That's the only down side of this method, this old towel is going to go on to my compost heap when I have taken it out of here. So it will go on to have another life serving as a little cap for the top of my compost heap. Let's have a look at what else we've got in here that's been surviving in my absence.
There is one thing that is looking miserable is a hoya cutting which has gone very yellow, I'm not sure why that is. Hoyas are pretty tough, I'm thinking that's going to be okay, unless it's got spider mite which is possible. I'm going to have to get my hand lens out, I can see there's some stuff on the back of that leaf and in fact that leaf has just come off in my hand, that might be spider mite. I'm going to do a bit of investigation on that one, that one's going to be put to one side. That means I need to have a look at all the plants really to check for things like spider mite.
Let's have a look at the other hoya cuttings, the other hoya cuttings are actually looking fine. This is DS70 and that's looking okay. I will treat all of them with a spray of house plant defender just to make sure that they are getting a little boost once they move back to their normal locations.
What else have we got here? Calathea musaica- the mosaic calathea - tough plant actually, one of the toughest of the Calatheaclan. This one is looking fine and dandy, I'm just looking for any sign of spider mite because as we know Calatheas are very, very vulnerable to this. Can't see any signs of it, I will check it with the hand lens also. It's got a couple of little crispy leaves, I'm not quite sure what's caused that, that might have been caused previous to my holiday from being in a little bit too much sun when it was really bright. Only a couple of leaves affected and there's some new leaves coming through so that's great.
So, all in all, this has been successful as it usually is, I'm yet to find any plants that have died as a result of this method. All of these plants in here, there's lots of Gesneriads, there's fittonia, there are lots of Strawberry saxifrage, Oxalis babiesand various other things, they all seem to be pretty happy, so this has worked really well. As I say, the plants inside are fine too. Let's go in and see how they're doing.
I'm now in the sun room where a lot of my plants live and I've got my folding ruler out because the headline news while I was away is that my Variegated monstera deliciosahave gone a bit wild to be quite honest. I potted them up not long ago and the leaf that's unfurled on one of them while I've been away, I'm just going to do a bit of measurement here, the previous leaf was about 23cm, that's 12 inches (nine inches)across, the new leaf, the next left that's opened is about 33cm, that's about 13 inches across. It's gone exponentially bigger while I've been away. I've got the first leaf that's actually got a self-contained hole, if you can imagine that, so there's a hole that's completely surrounded by leaf flesh as opposed to just being a cut into the outline of the leaf, so that is mega-exciting. I think it's very happy that it's in a bigger pot.
The other one, it's in the process of throwing out a new leaf and unfurling it, it's not yet open but that's also doing really well, so that is fantastic news. This is what happens when you go away for two weeks, exciting things occur. Everything else is okay too, my lovely Smithianthas, two of them, have broke into bloom while I've been away and these lovely fox glove like bells that they produce which are absolutely lovely and everything else hasn't been too bad.
I'm afraid I've got a bit of spider mite on my Maranta'Lemon Lime', which is a bit tragic, but that wont take long to get rid of and everything else is looking fine and dandy and one of the plants that is looking particularly good is my Oxalis triangularis which is what I want to talk about today. Seeing as I'm here standing in front of it, I just wanted to give you a live experiment because one of the things I wanted to say about the purple false leaf shamrock, as its common name is, is that this plant is edible. So these trifoliate leaves, where you've got three triangle shape sections of the leaf, are edible. They do contain oxalic acid which in large quantities can be problematic for some people, but to be quite frank you'd have to eat a lot of these leaves to have a problem, so I don't think that's a concern.
If you want to try eating your Oxalis triangularisleaves, then please do, they're a member of the wood sorrel family, so they are edible, just make sure that your plant is not a newly purchased one and that the leaves you are eating are ones that have been produced since you bought it. That means it's had time to get rid of any things that have been put on the leaves like Leaf Shine or anything else. With a new plant I wouldn't eat a brand new plant, I'd wait for six months or a year so that you know what's happened to that plant and whether the leaves are going to be coated in anything or containing anything that you wouldn't want to eat.
So here we go, Oxalis triangularis, let's eat a leaf. Oh sir! Oh yes. If you've ever eaten something that's lemony sour that makes your mouth pucker and one of your eyes close, then that's in essence what it's like eating an Oxalis triangularisleaf, it's a wonderfully lemony sour flavour and also a little bit sweet too, a bit like eating a sorrel leaf, absolutely delicious on a salad and stunning looking too. So do bear that in mind if you're growing Oxalis triangularis, it's not something you'd want to be chomping on all of the time because you wouldn't have many leaves left, but it's a nice little treat occasionally to have on your salad. And of course, as you take more leaves out, more will grow in their place, that's the wonderful thing about this generous plant. Right, back to the podcast studio for more Oxalis triangularischat.
Jane: So we've discovered that the false leaf shamrock is edible, what else do we need to know about this plant? Well Oxalis triangularisactually comes in two colours, the purple leaf version is the most commonly grown by far as a house plant with a less then tongue-friendly latin name Oxalis triangularis subspecies papilionacea, the green form is just known as Oxalis triangularisbut there is some confusion over the naming of this one and you will find the purple version called Oxalis triangularis purpurea and various other names. Papilionaceawell that just means papillon, butterfly, reflecting the way that the leaves look.
One of the other things that draws people to this plant is the colour of the foliage which is the darkest, most dramatic purple, with a paler purple splodge in the centre of each leaf which catches the light in the most beautiful way. Another wonderful quality of this plant is its ability to perform nictonasty, it's not rude don't worry, this is a clean podcast, nictonasty, just means the plant's ability to manoeuvre its leaves to make best use of the light during the day. So this plant opens up like an umbrella as the sun comes up and maximises those butterfly shaped leaves to get the most light and then as the light to starts reduce at the end of the day those leaves fold back down when they're not really needed so much and it's a wonderful thing to see on your plant. Of course, one of the other plants that we see do this a lot is the Marantagroup plant, the prayer plant, but Oxalis triangularisdoes it in a slightly different way, it does feel more like an umbrella than a pair of hands opening and closing in prayer and I think it's rather charming.
What else do we need to know about this plant? Well, like the strawberry saxifrage that we talked about in episode 104, this is one of a very small group of house plants that can grow successfully outside and inside, whatever the weather in the British climate, so it's a hardy plant. It will die back outside in the winter and lose all its foliage but it has a hidden super power, and that hidden super power is the scaly rhizomes that grow underground, and they're like storage organs that store resources for the plants. So if it does die back, either because it's been under watered perhaps, inside as a house plant, or because the conditions aren't right outside in the garden, then it can easily regrow from those rhizomes. In fact buying these tiny scaly rhizomes is the most economical way to get hold of this plant. You sometimes see it sold in, well, quite cheap Jack kind of shops, also garden centres sell it at certain times of year as an outdoor plant and for a couple of quid you should be able to get hold of a few rhizomes, or if you see a fellow house plant grower with this plant, then do beg a couple of rhizomes from them because very quickly you'll end up with a full and lush plant that way.
The leaves rise up on very straight juicy stems and it's worth saying that the leaves themselves don't last an awfully long time individually, maybe a few months maximum, so once they start to look a bit miserable you can just literally have a little yank at the leaf and pull away the whole stem and leaf in tact and that doesn't cause the plant any problems at all.
Oxalis triangularisis very much a foliage plant, it does produce little pink flowers which I think could be accurately described as insignificant. You have a choice really, do you want the plant to put energy into flowers or into foliage? In my case, I pull off all of the flower stems because I just don't think that they're that attractive and I want the plant to concentrate on putting out foliage, but they're pretty enough so if you forget to take some off, or you just like them, then feel free to leave them on.
What kind of light does this plant like? It won't like sitting next to a cactus and being absolutely frazzled by direct sun, but it can cope with a variety of different conditions. Mine is in my sun room, north facing, but a glass roof so it gets tonnes of indirect light which suits it very, very nicely. But it's a tough cookie, if the light isn't ideal you might lose some leaves but move it to a better spot and you'll find that it will revive itself by producing new leaves quite nicely.
Potting mix wise? Well, some regular house plant compost with a little bit of perlite added is usually what I do, although it will take to a variety of different settings. It will survive as a garden plant in most garden soil, so really don't panic too much about that side of things.
Water wise? Give it a splash of water or a good soak once a week in the growing season and you should be doing okay. It is a very forgiving plant which is the kind of house plant that I like.
If your plant does completely die back or lose some leaves, this is most likely to happen in winter, do not despair. I would definitely advise taking the plant out of its plot and checking those rhizomes. If they are firm and they don't feel like they're mushy then they should definitely regrow come the spring time. So put them into some fresh potting mix and leave them just slightly damp and hopefully come spring, as the light levels improve, your plant will regrow.
If your plant does die back, it's worth taking out any of those withered leaves. They're not really serving any function once they've died back and they just make it look rather ugly, so pull those out or cut them off at the base and that will help to stop any rot setting in and remember the fewer leaves you have, the less you need to water, so if in doubt don't water your plant particularly in the winter. This plant can go a long way to being quite dry before it's actually going to die because, remember, the key is those rhizomes which are storing both water and nutrients for the plant.
When it comes to propagating this plant, there's three ways, rhizomes, leaf cuttings or seed. I'm really not sure why you'd bother with seed unless that's the only way you can get plants because it's so easy to divide this plant and so easy to take leaf cuttings as well. I was really surprised that this worked but you can actually pull out a whole stalk, stick it in water and it will root, how incredible is that? But the easiest, easiest way is just to get some of those rhizomes and grow from there. So be generous and if your plant has produced a lot of rhizomes then do split some up and give them to friends.
One final thing to say about this plant, some of you may be turning up your nose because in your part of the world this is considered an invasive weed. I guess that's why it make such a good house plant because it is fine contained in a pot, it's not going to take over your whole house, it can be invasive in certain situations in the garden, it's easy enough to get rid of but it is a bit of a pain if you've got a lot of it, you just need to get rid of all of those rhizomes, to be honest it's such a beautiful plant I think I can forgive it its invasiveness outdoors because it is just so wonderful indoors.
It's worth saying there are other Oxalisthat you can grow as house plants. Oxalis deppeiis the one that often mentioned, in fact I've just got some rhizomes of Oxalis deppei'Iron Cross', which is a green false leaf shamrock with a dark maroon centre like an iron cross which has just started growing, which is very exciting. There's a few others including Oxalis vulcanicolawhich is a lovely little plant that is quite good as a terrarium plant and we'll be hearing more about that in an upcoming episode on plants for terrariums in which I talk to terrarium plant specialists, the Violet Barn.
Jane: A shout out to my new Patreon subscribers. Since I've been away there's been a flush of new arrivals on the Patreon scene including Maggie, Miriam, Martin, MJ, no not everyone has to have a name starting with M to be a Patreon but it seems that way, we've also got Nancy, Tabetha, Siobhan, Cordelia, Hannah and Jennifer who all become ledge-ends while Hannah and Pauline became crazy plant people. Thank you also to Michelle who gave a donation via ko-fi.comwhich is perfect if you don't want to commit to a monthly payment, you just want a one-off.
If you're not sure how to join the happy clan of people who donate to On the Ledge then pop over to my show notes at JanePerrone.comto find out how Patreon subscribers of $5 a month or more get access to extra episodes known as An Extra Leaf and a Christmas mail out, which incredibly, I hate to say the C word only in September but I'm already working on this. So that will be something exciting coming through the letterbox of everyone who is a ledge-end or an On The Ledge super fan come December.
Jane: And it's time for Question of the Week which came in on Twitter from Jason. Jason posted a pic of rather lacklustre looking Asplenum nidus'Crissie' which, I have to say, doesn't look exactly as I would expect it to look. It doesn't have the forked leaves, the end of the leaves on this particular bird's nest fern, the leaves tend to fork out into finger like extensions from the end. I don't see that on Jason's plant but it certainly does have some waviness to the leaves, so maybe I'm wrong, but there are a few different forms of Asplenum nidusout there. In fact, I think it looks more like one that I've seen called Crispy Wave, perhaps that's what you've got instead of Crissie, Jason? Anyway, this is not an ID question, it's a cultivation question and it doesn't really matter exactly what cult of the bird's nest fern you have because the problem is the same.
Jason tells me that he's accidentally watered the centre of the plant without thinking. Jason! You must always think when you're watering your plants. Not that I always do, I have to say, sometimes water is flung at them from some distance while running past to deal with a moaning child but, you know, in an ideal world, we'd all think long and hard about how we water our plants, but hey, life gets in the way, I understand Jason. Jason reports that now it is "slowly rotting, any advice to save it?" Well, it's a good piece of advice not to water the centre, the crown, of any plant, be it in the garden or in a pot, but it's often worse in a pot because the water doesn't really have anywhere to go. Often times when you water the crown of a plant, that water will sit there and particularly in a bird's nest fern, the water will be held by the leaves and the position they're in and rot the plant and I think that's what's happening here. Obviously if you've got a bromeliad where it's designed for that kind of watering then that's a different matter, but for a bird's nest fern like this, it's not going to like having water sat on top of it for any length of time. Really, the advice is generally with these plants to either water from below or to water very carefully around the plant rather than on to the crown.
So what can Jason do? Well, I'm looking at the picture and I can see that several of the leaves have got brown soft parts at the base showing that there is rot occurring. The thing that's hard to tell from looking at these photos is whether it's just those few leaves that have taken the brunt of the damage or whether the actual growing point of the plant itself is rotten. I think the only way you're going to be able to find out, Jason, is by snipping away those leaves that are rotten at the base because they just won't survive and then taking the plant out of its pot and having a really good look at that growing point, the centre of the plant, is it all nice and firm and green or does it feel brown and mushy? If the latter, I suspect you may be in serious trouble. Either way, cut off any leaves that you think might be affected and see what happens next.
You'll also need to check the roots of the plant, Jason, just to check that there's no rot going on there, but I suspect if, as you said, the water has come in at the top, then it's more likely to be crown rot than root rot but check it all out while you're there, there's no harm in doing that.
Some ferns have an amazing ability to regenerate once their leaves have either gone crispy from dryness or rotted, they will regenerate incredibly. I don't know in this case whether that will happen with your fern, Jason, but it's definitely worth a try. As I say, just ferns generally are one of those groups of plants that just respond really badly to watering errors which is why, quite frankly, I don't grow many of them because I just ain't got the time for that kind of diva activity but if you love ferns this is something you need to bear in mind. Maybe put it in a self-watering pot or maybe put a note on it, or make some kind of reminder so that you remember not to water this plant from above. I guess one thing you can do to make that easier is just make sure it's got a decent saucer underneath it that will hold water so that you can water it from below without too much hassle.
I hope that's helped, Jason, it's a lovely looking plant and I really hope it does pull back for you. I have heard many stories of ferns recovering from various kinds of, I don't want to say abuse, because that sounds a bit harsh, but various kinds of problems, cultural problems as we might say, so let's cross our fingers and hope that yours will be fine.
If you've got a question for On The Ledge, I do want to hear from you right now because I'm in the throes of planning a Q&A episode, so drop me a line
Jane: Well, that just about rounds up this week's show. It just remains for me to remind you that on September 21st and 22nd I'm going to be at CactusWorld Live at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. I'm doing a podcast recording at 1.30pm on Saturday 21st and I'm doing an audience with Jane Perrone at 2.00pm on the Sunday and I'm also planning a get together of On The Ledge podcast listeners, so if you're planning to come, please let me know and we can arrange where and when we're going to meet. I'm also taking plant, I mean taking part, although that is an apposite slip of the tongue, in the House Plant Festival at the Garden Museum in London the following weekend, that's September 29th, I'll put details of both of these events into the show notes and I'd love to see you if you can come.
Right, I'm off to go and shove that stinky old towel on top of my compost heap for the woodlice, slugs and other tiny creatures to enjoy. Take care, everyone. Bye!
Jane: The music you heard in this episode was Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, Brand New Worldby Kai Engel, An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day, Gokarnaby Samuel Corwin and Quasi Motionby Kevin MacLeod all licensed under Creative Commons. See www.janeperrone.comfor details.
I return from holiday to find a dozen bottles of milk turning into cheese on my doorstop, but the good news is that my houseplants are mostly thriving! I check them out, then discuss the wonderfully tolerant (and tasty!) houseplant that is the falseleaf shamrock aka Oxalis triangularis. Here are a few Oxalis facts to consider as you listen…
The species Oxalis triangularis has plain green leaves but the purple form, Oxalis triangularis subsp. papilionacea, is far more popular.
This is a hardy plant so will do well outside in the summer or even all year down to about -5C. It may lose its foliage in less than ideal conditions but should regrow from the rhizomes that act as underground storage organs. You can grow it indoors at normal room temperature, but it will also do well in an unheated room or porch.
It looks lots of light but will become faded in too much direct sun.
It isn’t fussy about soil but some houseplant potting mix with a handful of perlite will be fine.
Leaves are not longlasting and when they fade they can be snipped away. Leaves are edible but contain oxalic acid so take care not to eat in large quanitities. More info on its edibility here at PFAF.
More on the wood sorrel clan here.
The pink flowers aren’t they exciting so if you want the best foliage, remove the flower stems as they develop.
This plant can be propagated from seeds, leaf petiole cuttings or rhizomes.
The leaves of false shamrock exhibit nyctinasty, opening and closing to maximise their exposure to light.
If you’d like to buy an Oxalis triangularis, the cheapest way is to buy rhizomes which are often available very cheaply. They are often sold in garden centres and by mail order plant/bulb firms.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Can anything be done for a birds nest fern with a rotting centre? When it comes to watering, for almost every plant, it’s wise to keep moisture away from the crown (aka growing point) of the plant, especially on any ferns, which resent water sitting around, but do benefit from moist soil. I suggest Jason removes any leaves that are rotted at the base, and checks the crown and rootball carefully for signs of rot. It is worth remembering that some ferns do revive even if the whole of the top growth is killed off, so I suggest Jason waters from below from now on, and gives this fern a chance to revive.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Join me at Lullingstone Castle in Kent in the UK on September 21 and 22 2019 for Cactusworld Live where I’ll be doing a live recording of On The Ledge at 1.30pm on September 21 and ‘An Audience With Jane Perrone’ at 2pm on September 22, and I’ll be holding a listener meetup: there will be a giveaway of OTL merch, too, for one lucky listener, so don’t miss out!
The following weekend I’ll be at the Garden Museum on Sunday September 29 for their Houseplant Festival: I’ll be helping out with the houseplant clinic, and there’s also the chance to take part in workshops and browse an awesome range of stalls from some of my favourite houseplant shops!
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This week's show featured the tracks Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, Brand New World by Kai Engel, An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day Gorkana by Samuel Corwin, Quasi Motion by Kevin Macleod and Water in the Creek by Josh Woodward. All tracks licensed under Creative Commons.
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