Commonly known as woodsorrel, Oxalis is from the Oxalidaceae family

South Africa Plant LifeThe Oxalis

Commonly known as sorrel or woodsorrel, Oxalis is from the Oxalidaceae family and is known for its brightly coloured blooms and intensely green foliage.

Oxalis can naturally be found in southern Africa and South America and consists of approximately 775 different species.

Quick Facts


The Oxalis is a delicate perennial herb that stays fairly short and small, reaching heights of between five and 30 centimetres. The compound leaves have three leaflets (resembling clover) and either have a tiny stalk or none at all.

The flowers occur on their own (as opposed to in clusters) and have five petals and five free sepals. They are found in pink, white, red, purple and yellow varieties. The leaves and flowers droop or fold closed after nightfall. A seed-filled capsule is the fruit of the plant and can bear only one seed, or many at a time. The sap in the stem of the plant is sour, a characteristic for which this edible plant is often known.

Flowering time

Oxalis does well in cooler conditions, and usually begins flowering towards the end of winter, reaching its full size and beauty in the spring months. It is then dormant in summer and autumn.

Use in the garden

The Oxalis is a popular ornamental plant that graces the landscapes and gardens of South Africa. It should not be consumed by humans or animals in large quantities, as it can lead to oxalate poisoning, which is potentially fatal, although rare. The dried leaves of the Oxalis acetosella can be used to make a refreshing, lemon-tang tea.

Natural distribution

Southern Africa alone is home to about 270 species of Oxalis. Within South Africa, these are found mainly in the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, doing particularly well within the fynbos-rich areas and biomes. It does well in a range of vegetation types, though, including savannah, forests and wetlands.

Growing Oxalis in your garden

This plant is a rather easy one for gardens, as it simply requires some shade (which is not even essential, but does provide optimal conditions), and not much water.

They spread easily on their own and grow well in pots and containers. It is not particularly vulnerable in terms of pests or disease, but can succumb to rust. Most species are dormant in the hot, dry months of summer.


Naturally, the fruit of the Oxalis explodes open and ejects its seeds, which then sprout into new plants. They can also be grown from runners and offsets, which should be divided or removed from the plant during the dormant period. Bulbs can resemble woody pine cones, but respond well to regular watering. They will sprout, even flower, within eight to 10 weeks from being planted.

Once they have completed their flowering stage, the leaves should be left on the plant so that they are able to feed the bulb for the following season (by means of photosynthesis). They can then be removed once they have discoloured and died back.

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Did you know?

Baden Powell Drive is one of those areas ‘highly vulnerable’ to a rise in sea level with the advent of climate change.

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