Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Purple (not a real) Shamrock

Species name: Oxalis triangularis

Common name: Purple shamrock, love plant

Location: UWO Greenhouse

The purple shamrock, not a real shamrock, is native to Brazil. One of the most exciting features about this plant aside from its purple foliage is that the leaves open and close as a result of sunlight and also reportedly a change in temperature, although it's difficult to say what is the cause for the movement in the leaves (since the temperature drops when the sun sets; it's a chicken-and-egg conundrum).

Unfortunately, the images of this plant show a rather unhealthy potted plant; there's a bit of an aphid problem in the greenhouses. This is also indicative of the problems that many homeowners have when trying to grow this plant indoors: if there's an aphid anywhere in or around your house, it seems like it will seek out and destroy any shamrocks within 5 square kilometres. It's actually quite impressive when you think about it. Even more impressively, in the wild these plants seem to be completely unaffected by aphid herbivory. It seems to only be a "problem of captivity," if you will.

One great characteristic of this plant is that it is 100% edible. They have a rather...pungent taste, that to me isn't very pleasant. But they would be great in a mixed greens salad, and the flowers are great for decorating salads, cakes and cupcakes. A multi-use tropical indoor plant! Make sure you don't eat too many leaves, though, as they do contain moderate amounts of oxalic acid, which can irritate the lining of the digestive tract. Unless you have kidneys operating at a reduced level of filtering function (due to kidney disease, diabetes, or other disease that affects the kidneys), poisoning from this plant leading to serious illness or death is nearly impossible. You would have to dedicate every minute of every day to eating it! The purple shamrock also does well outdoors in USDA growing zones 8a to 11, which roughly corresponds to an area from South Carolina all the way west to Texas and into Mexico, then south all the way to the Florida keys. If you live in these areas and choose to plant it outside, do take care since they tend to have a weedy growth habit and can strangle out other plants nearby.