Violet Wood Sorrel

Oxalis violacea

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Photo of violet wood sorrel plant with flowers
Missouri has one introduced and four native wood sorrels. Violet wood sorrel is the only one that has magenta or lavender flowers.
Family

Oxalidaceae (wood sorrels)

Description

Violet wood sorrel is a low, perennial herb with many flowers. Flowers in umbellike groups on long stalks, much higher than the leaves, 5-petaled, light magenta or lavender, rarely white (but never truly violet, despite the name), showy. Blooms April–July, also September–November. Leaves trifoliate (like clover), the leaflets heart-shaped, able to close along the central vein, often with purplish markings. Fruit a fairly long, upright capsule, surrounded by the calyx.

Similar species: Missouri has 4 native and 1 introduced Oxalis species. This is the only one that has magenta or lavender flowers, has leaves that arise only from the base of the plant, and grows from a bulb. The other species all have yellow flowers, leaves along the stem, and no bulbs.

Size

Height: to about 6 inches.

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Photo of violet wood sorrel leaf showing cloverlike shape and purplish markings
Violet Wood Sorrel (Leaf)
The leaves of violet wood sorrel are trifoliate (compound with three leaflets, like clover), and the leaflets are heart-shaped, able to close along the central vein, and often with purplish markings.

Violet Wood Sorrel

Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel
Violet Wood Sorrel at McCubbins Point, Lake of the Ozarks

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A pale pink flower with five petals reaches above clover-like leaves with purple markings.
Wood Sorrel in Orecon County

Violet Wood Sorrel

pale purple flowers with five petals grow above red-green heart-shaped leaves.
Violet Wood Sorrel in Kansas City
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in rocky or open woods, fields, prairies, and glades, and along rights-of-way, usually in acid soils.

image of Violet Wood Sorrel Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

The sour foliage adds a zesty flavor to salads, but this plant’s oxalic acid (named for the genus) limits the amount you should eat at any one time. Wood sorrel is thus both edible and toxic! Other plants famous for this chemical are spinach, sorrel, and rhubarb. Oxalic acid is the main active ingredient in the cleanser Bar Keepers Friend.

A South American plant in the same genus, O. triangularis, is often called "false shamrock." You can find it at florists and in garden centers, and is available with vibrant green or deep purple leaves. It is a well-known house and garden plant and is especially popular at St. Patrick's Day. Being a type of wood sorrel, it is unrelated to "true" shamrocks, which are believed to be some kind of clover (in the bean or pea family). It grows from corms and can sometimes be persistent as a weed in gardens.

Ecosystem connections

Several insects visit the flowers for nectar or pollen, and a number of birds and mice eat the seeds. It is likely that herbivorous mammals, such as rabbits, eat the foliage, too, but they, like us, would be limited in the amount they can eat before getting sick.