The traditional Irish shamrock is the white clover, a member of the Trifolium genus. However, many other wildflowers with similar three-lobed leaves are often called “shamrocks”.
The redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) is a perennial that grows in moist forest sites in low to middle elevations in Oregon and Washington. Also commonly called oxalis, it looks like a shamrock. Each compound leaf is composed of three heart-shaped leaflets. The leaflets are held horizontally, most likely to intercept as much light as possible on the dim forest understory. With direct sunlight or at night the leaves fold together and point sharply downward. It takes about six minutes for the leaves to close and about 30 minutes for them to open up again once conditions change. It is thought the leaves close to conserve moisture. However, they also close during rains, perhaps to reduce the impact of raindrops on the delicate leaves. The flowers have five petals and are white to pinkish white. Sorrel propagates by rhizomes and one often finds large mats of these wildflowers while walking through the forest.
Native Americans and early settlers ate the leaves raw. The leaves have a sour, tangy taste. The pioneers also made a rhubarb-like pie from the leaves and stems. The sour taste of sorrel leaves is derived from their high oxalic acid content and could be potentially harmful. I prefer to only nibble a few leaves while walking in the field and leave the sorrel pies and salads to others. The juicy, tart taste is refreshing, but why push my luck?
These pictures were taken in Loeb Park near Brookings OR.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!