The best plant for St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t have a thing to do with Ireland — unless they drink green beer in Brazil.
Oxalis triangularis, aka false shamrock, is a bulb-type flowering plant native to the South American nation. The plant picked up its common name because it looks like the shamrock, the symbol of Ireland.
Because of this, the triangular three-leafed plants are often potted and sold and bought as gifts just before St. Patrick’s Day — which is tomorrow.
For example, Stadium Flowers, a specialty florist with shops in Everett and Lynnwood, orders 150 of the adorable plants for St. Patrick’s Day. Their price tag? $6.98 each.
“They sell really well for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Anna Porterfield, garden manager for Stadium Flowers. “We’ll have them out two to three weeks before the holiday.”
There are two types of false shamrock. One has green leaves and small white-colored blooms; the other has deep maroon or purple leaves and small pinkish blooms. They mature in three to five years.
While green is the florist’s bestseller, Porterfield and I both prefer the purple.
While it’s cute that the plant resembles the three-leafed clover, I adore the false shamrock for another reason: They wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night.
Through a process called “photonasty,” which sounds like something you shouldn’t Google at work, the plant opens up its leaves during the day and closes them at night — much like an umbrella. Even the trumpet-shaped flowers sitting above the leaves open and close with the light.
“They open to get more sunlight, like a solar panel,” Porterfield said. “It’s a really cool thing.”
While the false shamrock is most commonly grown as a houseplant, it is possible to grow them outdoors. Yes, you can let your housebound shamrock enjoy the summer. Just put your potted plant in a cool shaded spot.
False shamrock is easy to grow. Trust me. I don’t have a green thumb, but my purple shamrock is thriving.
“They like to be moist all the time,” Porterfield said. “And they’re not a super sunny lover. They like the shade.”
If the soil becomes too dry, the leaves and flowers will shrivel up. But the plant itself is not dead. It has only taken refuge in the bulbs sitting just below the soil. As soon as good conditions are restored, the plant will shoot up new stems.
“When mine started getting haggard and gross-looking, I would chop it down to the soil,” Porterfield said. “That’s a way to keep them looking fresh.”
I don’t cut mine back. I just gently pull out the shriveled-up stems.
By the way, those stems can get pretty tall — they max out at about 12 inches. The long stems can get tangled when the plant moves toward the light. When mine is growing well, my shamrock can start to look like a leggy teenager.
If your shamrock gets tangled, Porterfield suggests turning the pot. The plant will start to stand up straighter with each spin.
“With mine, I would just rotate it every time I walked by it,” she said. “Their heads will follow like sunflowers. They’ll turn and just go whichever way you want them to.
“You can get in there and finger-comb them” to untangle the shamrocks, Porterfield said.
Since Stadium Flowers grows its shamrocks in a greenhouse, the plants grow low and short. They’ll get taller when you take them home.
The plant is happiest when temperatures are between 60-70 degrees in the day and no lower than 55 degrees at night.
They like a nice shaded spot within the home, away from direct sunlight. Mine sits back from a window in my living room. It sits in average potting soil, and the pot has good drainage.
Like the Irish, this shamrock loves to drink. But one of the worst things you can do is overwater the bulbs. They will rot. Allow the soil at the top of the pot to dry out before you water again.
While I’ve never fertilized my plant, a diluted liquid fertilizer is helpful when it is growing. If you do fertilize, feed it once every two weeks or once a month.
False shamrock like to spread, especially when planted outdoors. You may want to re-pot your plant every two years when it is dormant. Either move it to a bigger pot or remove new growth to keep your shamrock about the same size.
Note: False shamrock is poisonous for pets. Keep it away from cats and dogs.
More about Ireland’s shamrock. It is said that St. Patrick saw the three-leaf clover as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. The three leaves of the shamrock or clover are also said to stand for faith, hope and love. A rare fourth leaf is where we get the luck from. It’s why many of us consider a four-leaf clover to be a sign of good luck.
Sorry, but you won’t find a four-leaf clover in your false shamrock.
“Never in my life have I ever seen one with four leaves,” Porterfield said, with a laugh. “They all only have three.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.