Oxalis strikes fear and loathing in gardener for its weedy nature in gardens – in Mediterranean gardens, Oxalis pes-caprae (Bermuda buttercup) is the chief bane while in temperate gardens, Oxalis corniculata (creeping woodsorrel) and O. stricta (common yellow woodsorrel) challenge the most persistent and patient minds. As with cultivated plants, it takes only one or two villains to tar what would have been an attractive and well behaved group for gardens. The majority of bulbous Oxalis in South Africa which do not have the conquering tendencies as Oxalis pes-caprae make attractive winter pot subjects, disappearing conveniently during summer where they should be kept dry until September. One of the showiest species belongs to Oxalis versicolor commonly known as candy cane sorrel for its swirled red and white buds. It was one of the earliest South African Oxalis introduced to cultivation, having been featured in Volume 5 of the Botanical Magazine or Flower-Garden displayed (1791). William Curtis called it “one of the most beautiful of the many species cultivated in gardens” first discovered by the Scottish botanist and plant explorer Francis Masson in 1774. Curtis did lament the loss of brilliancy when the flowers open, preferring them closed as they do in the pic above.
Although nursery catalogs list Oxalis versicolor as being hardy as north as Zone 7, this hardiness rating should be viewed with suspicion. Bulbs would rot in our cold and wet winters, and one would be advised to grow in pots under lights (winter sunlight do not equal the summer sunlight this Oxalis would have enjoyed in South Africa). For the best effect, the corms should be planted tightly as possible in a pot. Oxalis versicolor may be trigger the collector’s compulsion to seek out other species.