A Sweet & Sour Flower

Slender Yellow Woodsorrel ~ Oxalis dillenii

As I left Walden West, the last flower I encountered was the Violet Woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea). Not long after, I discovered a few Slender Yellow Woodsorrels at the Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island. One of several native pink and yellow Oxalis species that can be found in Texas, they’re among our earliest-blooming spring flowers.

Derived from the Greek word for ‘acid,’ Oxalis sometimes is translated as ‘sour.’ Both the leaves and flowers have a somewhat sour taste because of the oxalic acid they contain, but in small quantities they’re not toxic to humans, and often are included in salads.

On a sweeter note, the leaves surrounding the small, half-inch flowers are divided into three heart-shaped leaflets perfect for a Valentine’s Day bouquet, and various insects, like this hoverfly, clearly enjoy finding a sweet spring treat.


Comments always are welcome.

68 thoughts on “A Sweet & Sour Flower

  1. In post after post you’ve kept showing that the coast is florally ahead of the state’s center this year. Methinks oxalis leaves might be a wee bit small for most Valentine’s Day bouquets, at least outside the world of macro photography. The first part of oxalis is the same root meaning ‘sharp’ that’s in acute and acid, and less obviously in edge.

    1. It depends on who’s offering the bouquet. When I was a child, bouquets of violets and lily of the valley — tiny little clutches of blooms — were common offerings to my mother. Any of the Oxalis would have served equally well.

      Here’s an odd connection. One of the most useful tools for my work is Barkeeper’s Friend, which contains oxalic acid as an active ingredient. Made into a paste, it removes rust stains from fiberglass and metal without damage or need for scrubbing.

        1. Interesting. I’d never heard of that cookware brand, but its users certainly seem enthusiastic. The recommendation to use Barkeeper’s Friend as a cleaner supports my sense that the product’s relatively mild.

    1. Hoverflies and bees are different, although there’s one hoverfly so furry it came to be called the Bumble Bee Hoverfly. There are hundreds of species, each with its own cool design. You can see some of them here.. Distinguishing among them can be quite a trick; usually, I stick with ‘hoverfly,’ unless there’s an obvious reason to choose one species.

  2. A new flower for me! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the violet (though it might have been a similar plant), but I’ve never seen a yellow. That’s a beautiful capture with the hoverfly. I just love hoverflies; there are so many different kinds, they’re everywhere, and such welcome little pollinators.

    1. This one’s shown for Travis County, but it’s low-growing. I usually come across it in dappled shade at the edges of woodlands or shrub-rich areas. These were next to some myrtle bushes — that happened to be filled with warblers.

      I’m quite fond of hoverflies, too. For one thing, they’ll sometimes hover for the camera more readily than the little bees. Speaking of bees, I came across this article about the use of oxalic acid in beekeeping. Thanks to your posts, I knew about the Varroa mites.

    1. Even the smallest flower can serve a purpose; little insects need to eat, too. This one’s a hoverfly rather than a bee. There are hundreds of species, each with a different pattern that helps with identifying them. I’m fairly sure this is a common species, but the photo’s not clear or complete enough for me to go any farther than ‘hoverfly’!

    1. Once I focused on the bud, I was surprised to see that twist. For me, it evokes our soft-serve ice cream cones: sometimes plain vanilla or chocolate, but sometimes a combination of two flavors twisted together.

  3. This is kin to the shamrock plant, isn’t it? Of course, with that one, the flowers are tiny and typically white, but the leave look very similar. Nice to hear Spring is slowly beginning its march northward — I’m tired of snow already, ha!

    1. You’ve got it, Debbie. Here’s a nice explanation.. Thinking back to shamrocks I’ve seen, I think the flowers are about the same size.;the macro lens makes very small things loom much larger, and this bud was no more than a half-inch long. The shape of the leaves is the same, although some species have a purple tinge to them.

  4. I don’t see yellow very often. Anyway, a pot of them would be a lovely gift and I have seen them at nurseries. I spend hours digging the wild ones from my garden beds. I do grow two that are Oxalis triangularis and less invasive.

    1. There’s a native beauty that lives in east Texas: Oxalis texana. It has a larger flower, and deep red lines around the throat. I’ve seen it, but didn’t pay enough attention to it at the time. I hope to come across it again this year.

    1. Did you grow up with Dreamsicles? That’s what orange cream always reminds me of. There was a push-up sort of treat that also was orange cream. It was just as good as the Dreamsicle, and maybe better. In deep mid-summer our Bluebell Creameries sometimes do an orange cream/vanilla combo. I’m not ready for summer, but I wouldn’t mind some of that ice cream.

      1. The orange-vanilla mix I grew up with was probably Wegman’s, a grocery store, don’t really remember the brand, or Purity co. in Ithaca, or Breyer’s, there’s a lot of good ice cream brands to like.

    1. There’s no end to the newness, is there? Between these little yellow gems and the buttercups that will start arriving soon, the dandelions are going to get jealous!

    1. This is only the second hoverfly I’ve seen since our December freeze. I’m sure there are others around now; the mosquitos certainly are flourishing. This one flew in while I was photographing the buds, and didn’t linger for more than a half-minute. I would have liked a sharper image, but there will be plenty more willing to pose in the coming months.

    1. Thanks, Ally. I enjoy yellow flowers generally; it seems that even the smallest can really shine. While we’re waiting for sunflowers and such, this makes a fine substitute.

  5. Great hoverfly image! It’s interesting to see the different patterns on them – the most common one we see is the ‘Marmalade Fly’. It can be quite entertaining to watch them.

    1. I assumed your Marmalade Fly was named for its color, but the Wildlife Trusts site says, “The marmalade fly gets its name from its orange colour, but also from the different sized black bands across its body: ‘thin cut’, ‘thick cut’, just like marmalade!” Very interesting — I didn’t know that about marmalade. I grew up making jams and jellies; we thought marmalade was quite exotic!

    1. Every time I see an insect like this while winter still is lingering, I think of how pleased it must be to find a bit of nourishment. I’m not so sanguine when it comes to the mosquitos dining on me, though. There are limits to cross-species empathy!

  6. About marmalade: I smiled at the thought of it being considered exotic because I grew up eating it – quite casually (in England.) I have to stop buying it because I cannot control myself around it, particularly when mixed with peanut butter ….

    1. Ah, yes. The ubiquitous peanut butter + combo. For me, it’s peanut butter and jam rather than jelly: blackberry is a favorite. Now, I’m going to expand my horizons and try some marmalade. When I think of marmalade, I usually think of a riddle my pun-loving father introduced me to when I was a child:
      “What did the baby chick say when it found an orange in its nest?”
      “Oh, look at the orange Marma laid!”

      1. Love that riddle. One other peanut butter combo: with marmite. Another relic from my English upbringing.

    1. I just posted photos of what I found yesterday: ‘Texas’ dandelions, ten-petal anemones, and Verbena halei. We sure are ahead of you, but I’ve had a sense that it was time for spring flowers. I hope you get some sooner rather than later!

    1. I agree about the charm of small flowers. I’ve liked them ever since I fell in love with violets and lily of the valley as a child. When the hoverfly flew in, I certainly was surprised. It didn’t linger as long as I would have liked, but we take what we can get.

  7. They may be sweet,
    They may be sour,
    Small flowers at my feet,
    Beautiful at any hour.

    We enjoy yellow and violet forms of Oxalis in most of our central Florida region. We also enjoy the many life forms they attract.

    Thank you for brightening our overcast day!

    1. Isn’t it interesting how flowers can seem to glow even under what humans describe as gloomy conditions? Granted, a number of them may be reluctant to open sans sunshine, but when they do, they’re pure delight: to our eyes, and to those of the pollinators!

    1. Isn’t that fun? Hoverflies can photobomb any old time they please: or bees, or spiders, or beetles, for that matter. One of the first things I learned when I started taking photos of flowers is that where there are flowers there are going to be insects: invited or uninvited!

  8. I have a patch of oxalis growing in my yard and there have been no flowers yet. Too cold. They are edible and though should be consumed in small quantities, can give a different taste to a salad. The photos turned out really nice.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about the photos. There’s nothing like on-the-ground photography to keep a person limber. Although I’ve never tasted oxalis, I imagine it to be like arugala. I need to test that theory the next time I see a nice patch.

  9. As with many other flowers I love how the unopened buds have that spiral twist to them. Very interesting about acid and sour, I’d not known any of that.

    1. I sure was surprised when I learned that oxalis flowers and oxalic acid were related. Now I’m wondering if crushed oxalis leaves and flowers could remove rust. I may have to play scientist and experiment a bit. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing more and more of these flowers in the months to come.

    1. There will be opportunties for better photos later in the year. These still were quite short, making it harder to photograph them than it will be when they’re a few inches taller. As for that cute little hoverfly, there’s nothing quite like being photobombed by an insect. Photographer or no, that one saw its own sweet treat and was determined to have a taste.

    1. The USDA map does show that they’re native in a half-dozen Panhandle counties, including Lubbock, so you no doubt have seen them. They’re willing to set up shop just about anywhere: from vacant lots to sidewalk edges to decorative planters in front of stores. I see them most often in dappled light in natural areas, but these were in a mowed area with full sunlight, and they pop up on the edges of marina lawns fairly often.

  10. While their mother rested at home with a new baby, two little girls were hanging out with me today, and playing in the garden and playhouse. I went out to see their set-up, and noticed a bit of green leaf in a mouth. What did you find to eat? I asked, thinking that it must be parsley, because not much else is growing now. “Parsley,” my young friend answered.

    I mused out loud, “I wonder if there is anything else you could munch on…” and before I could turn my head to look around, one of the children yelled, “Sourgrass!” She had spotted it in a flash, growing in a pot with a shrub. They ran over and grabbed a bunch to add to their snack.

    My husband first introduced me to this oxalis that we call sourgrass, when we moved to northern California; I hadn’t known it before, where I lived in other parts of the state. But since then, it’s been a familiar and welcome sight wherever it pops up.

    1. What a sweet story about your sourgrass! It certainly strengthens my determination to sample a bit of the plant when I come across it again. I’d never heard the name ‘sourgrass,’ but it certainly fits. You’re so good about encouraging the children in your life to accept and enjoy what nature offers. If I’d had a mother or a neighbor like you, I might have come to my own enjoyment of nature earlier. My own mother loved flowers, but she hated dirt: difficult inclinations to combine!

  11. Walden West gave you a lovely fare thee well with that sweet woodsorrel and especially with the delightful flower fly pollinating away.
    Speaking of acid, I have used Oxalic Acid a few times as a wood bleach.

    1. I’ve spot treated with oxalic acid, too. When it comes to larger areas of teak, like decks, there are some specialized products that do a better job, but I always have the oxalic acid in my kit.

      I so enjoy these little flowers. Given the amount of rain we’ve had, once we begin to warm up again, I suspect there will be plenty of subjects begging to have their portrait made.

    1. During the Depression, there was a slogan advising that there should be “a chicken in every pot.” A nice variation would be “a flower for every hoverfly” — and for every bee and beetle, too!

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