Oxalis montana


Woodsorrel, Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Robert W. Freckmann
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Robert W. Freckmann

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Oxalis, from the Latin
  • montana, from the Latin, "of the mountains"
  • Common name an Anglicization of the Middle French sorrel de boys, replacing the older Woodsour (corresponding to the Old Norse skógarsúra (skóg, "wood", súra "sorrel"), and other old northern Germanic cognates), a reference to the sour taste of the leaves, resembling sorrel.
  • Other common names include Common Woodsorrel, Mountain Woodsorrel, Wood Shamrock, White Woodsorrel


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae
        • Order Geraniales
          • Family Oxalidaceae, the Woodsorrels
            • Genus Oxalis, the Woodsorrels
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 29090
  • Also known as Oxalis acetosella, Oxalis acetosella montana, Oxalis acetosella var. rhodantha


  • A low native woodland perennial, less than 4" tall.
  • Leaves basal, with three cloverlike leaflets; evergreen.
  • Stem; main stem absent.
  • Rhizomes scaley, forming clones.
  • Fruit a round capsule.


  • Distinguished as an oxalis by the clover/shamrock like leaf.


  • Manitoba to Labrador and south to Nova Scotia; Minnesota across the North Central States to New England and south along the Appalachians to North Carolina and Tennessee.


  • Gaciated uplands of the Canadian Shield.
  • Soil shallow sandy loams to loamy tills. Saturated soils may be poor to moderately well-drained and are generally poorly developed, often only an organic mat on of bedrock.
  • Soil pH strongly to moderately acidic.
  • Occurs on level to steep slopes and any aspect. Moss coverage can be low to high. Very high fern coverage reduces woodsorrel populations.
  • Climax understory species. Tolerant under mature Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) canopy.
  • Dominant in the northern hardwoods forest, red or sugar maple-yellow birch-American beech (Acer rubrum or A. saccharum-Betula lutea-Fagus grandifolia). Also dominant species in the transition plant associations between the boreal forest and the northern hardwoods. A minor component of the riparian communities in the northern hardwood forests.
  • Soil stabilizer; has extensive clonal growth and the ability to grow on steep ground, poor soil, and in deep shade.


  • A perennial with underground rhizomes, it often grows in humus on bedrock in spruce-fir forests. The organic layer does not give much protection from fire. Fire would top-kill this plant and its rhizomes probably would not survive a fire of moderate severity. Surviving rhizomes will sprout, existing patches expanding to colonize open areas.
  • Can reproduce by asexual flowers, so seed set is highly probable, despite a possible low initial population size. Dissemination by explosive dehiscence provides the ability to colonize open disturbed areas.
  • When open ground has closed with vegetation, colonies will continue to expand by rhizome growth.





  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Reproduction usually involves episodes of seedling establishtment as a result of disturbance, such as fire and logging, followed by long periods of vegetative clonal growth.
  • Forms extensive colonies in boreal spruce-fir forests; however, its colonies rarely exceed several feet in diameter in the northern hardwood forests.
  • Asexual flowers produce greater amounts of seed compared to sexual flowers. Total fruit set per plant is low because there is only one flower per stalk, with a recorded maximum of 34 flowers per plant. Mature capsules dehisce seeds forcefully, flinging them outward from the plant.


  • By seed, following cold stratification.
  • Division most successful method


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Prefers cool, acidic soils
  • Occasionally available by mail order from specialty suppliers.



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Last Updated on 27 September, 2002