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Friday, March 9th, 2007

Shamrocks, mysterious and magical

By Betty Lawrence
I visited a local flower shop recently and spied a beautiful potted purple plant whose leaves resembled shamrocks, or clover. Dainty lavender flowers topped the plant.
I learned the plant is known as the Lucky Shamrock (Oxalis or Wood Sorrel) plant, named for the shape of the leaves.
They are a popular choice for consumers around St. Patrick's Day even though the plant does not have a thing to do with St. Patrick's Day, other than the clover-shaped leaves.
According to legend, the shamrock, associated with St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland, has a religious history as each leaf symbolizes the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The word, shamrock, comes from an Irish word that means trefoil (three-leafed).
"Many people buy them as a novelty, but it's really an undervalued plant," says Candy Forlow, owner of the Flower & Plant Barn in St. Marys.
Shamrocks typically are house plants, that can be planted outside. When planted outdoors, they make a nice border in a garden, Forlow says.
"I know of someone who planted a whole row of the purple shamrocks against a white shed, and it was just beautiful," she says.
The leaves of the oxalis plant may be green, purple, red or even a combination. The blossoms also may be lavender, white, pink, yellow or red.
They are not related to clover that grows wild in lawns and fields.
Curiously, the leaves of the plant fold up at night, or during overcast days, to open again during daylight hours. This adds to the legend that the plant has mystical powers as the leaves, standing upright, warn of an approaching storm.
If you are lucky enough to get one of these gorgeous plants, horticulturists say they like sunlight and a little bit of fertilizer when blooming. They also prefer minimal watering and cool temperatures, below 75 degrees. Hotter temperatures can cause the plant to go into dormancy.
When your plant has finished blooming, it will start to die back, usually in the summer. After this occurs, store the plant for up to three months in a cool, dark place. After the dormant period, put the plant back to a sunny (no direct sun) location and start watering and fertilizing it. Now, you're ready to go again.
Bill Dysert, a grower at the Flower & Plant Barn, has been growing and propagating the shamrock plants for several years.
Shamrocks grow from bulbs, and most bulbs need a period of dormancy that allows them to rest.
"The plant's bulbs (corms) will multiply and once you purchase one of these plants, you will be able to separate them (bulbs) and end up with more than one plant. But don't divide them until after they're dormant," Dysert says.
For those who wish to expand their shamrock collection, at the conclusion of the dormant cycle, remove the bulbs, separate them and replant the bulb clumps in pots, burying them just under the surface of the soil.
Over the years Dysert has divided and planted hundreds of the shamrocks, tending to each one until they are large enough to market as a container plant.
"All you have to do is just get one, and you'll end up with enough bulbs for several plants," he says.
The unique shamrock plant can be purchased throughout the spring and summer, not just prior to St. Patrick's Day.
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