A Shamrock plant is a member of the Oxalis genus, and part of the wood-sorrel family, Oxalidaceae. It appears in flower shops around St. Patrick’s Day. These plants got the nickname “Shamrock Plant” because their thin, triangular leaflets resemble a lucky clover plant. The name “shamrock” comes from the Irish word seamróg which means “young clover.” There are several stories associated with the Shamrock plant. One of the most popular is that St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint and the person credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, plucked a Shamrock plant from the grass and used it to explain the Holy Trinity to his congregation. The three leaves, he said, represented the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death. The Shamrock plant is also credited with the arrival of spring and as a symbol for the “season of rebirth.
Shamrock Plant Description
A Shamrock plant is a small, bulb plant approximately 5”-7” tall. The thin leaves are usually divided into three leaflets, though some varieties may have four or more leaflets, and resemble clover. The leaflets exhibit “sleep movements” which means they spread open in the light and close up when it gets dark. When placed in bright, indirect light, Shamrock plants produce delicate, colorful flowers.
Shamrock Plant Varieties
Oxalis regnelli, the green leafed Shamrock plant, produces small, white flowers in late spring and summer.
Oxalis triangularis (Purple Shamrock or False Shamrock) has dark purple, triangular shaped leaves and pinkish/lavender flowers.
Oxalis versicolor (Candy Cane Oxalis) produces white, trumpet shaped flowers with red petal edges in early spring.
Oxalis tetraphylla (Iron Cross Oxalis or Good Luck Plant) has four heart shaped leaflets per leaf. The base of each leaflet is dark purple, making the leaf look like it has a beautiful cross at its center. The plant produces trumpet-shaped, dark pink flowers during the summer and fall.
Oxalis adenophylla (Silver Shamrock) has gray green leaves divided into heart shaped leaflets. It produces white flowers with lilac veins and lilac tips.
S. Regnelli S. Iron Cross S. Candycane
A Shamrock plant is easy to care for and adds a touch of spring to your home. However, these are perennial bulb plants and the leaves start to die back after the flowers fade. Don’t throw the plant out; Shamrock plants just need a little rest before starting to grow again. Follow the detailed instructions in the Resting Period part of the Care Section below and you’ll be able to enjoy your plant for many years. These plants are considered slightly poisonous if eaten in large quantities and should be kept away from pets and children. Read more about common houseplants that can be dangerous in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants.
To help a shamrock plant become fuller and bushier, move the plant to a location that gets more light and be sure the temperature stays on the cool side.
The soil your shamrock is planted in may be too rich in organic matter and not sandy enough. Rich soil helps with leaf growth but impairs flower growth. You can also try stressing the plant by letting it dry out a little more before watering it. This often helps it to flower.
The best time to propagate a shamrock plant is right after its dormant stage when you are about to return it to its normal bright location and start watering again. Separate the Shamrock Plant Bulbs and plant them in slightly sandy soil.
Yellow leaves on a shamrock plant indicate over watering. Try allowing the soil of your shamrock plant to dry out more before you water.