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Forget shamrocks and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with oxalis

Green and purple leaf oxalis fill a bowl as a table decoration. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Green and purple leaf oxalis fill a bowl as a table decoration. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

We may call those clover-like plants we buy around St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks, but they aren’t. They are oxalis.

St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the Catholic’s Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as one, although today, the faithful say Holy Spirit. Exactly what his shamrock was is uncertain, but many think it was a clover.

Patrick, whose life we celebrate on March 17, also is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes, when it’s possible they were never on the Emerald Isle or they were wiped out by the Ice Age. So much for the legend of the patron saint of Ireland.

There’s nothing legendary about the plant we embrace as oxalis. It’s a great little plant. We may have them indoors this time of year, but an oxalis is a very good plant for shady areas outside in summer.

Breeders have boosted the size of the leaves on oxalis and hybridized various colors, such as purple and copper. The flowers are white or pink. Oxalis does great in a container or as a flowering border in the front of a garden bed.

Bring the frost tender oxalis indoors at the end of summer to enjoy as a houseplant. It likely will go dormant for several weeks, then perk up and resume its show.

Garden Speak

61eEFYWb04L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_For those of us who love language and getting our hands dirty comes Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini (St. Lynn’s Press, 2015, $16.95, paperback).

The easy, conversational style of the book makes it a handy reference for beginner or experienced gardeners, with just the right mix of information, common sense and fun.

We hear words like “determinate” tomatoes, “thinning” seedlings and the “branch collar” of a tree, but do we know what these terms mean? We do now, with this tome, written with experience. Bennett is the master gardener coordinator and horticulture faculty member at Ohio State University. Zampini, a horticulturist from Madison, Ohio, comes from a long line of plant breeders and nurserymen, and owns UpShoot LLC, a plant marketing firm. Each is well practiced in explaining gardening and horticulture terminology at all levels, from consumers to plant scientists.

At 200 pages, this 6- by 7-inch book is packed with photos, illustrations and all the right words to make you speak like the knowledgeable gardener you are.

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