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How to Grow Oxalis Palmifrons?

oxalis palmifrons

Oxalis palmifrons belong to the Oxalis genus, are native to southern Africa, and comprise over 200 species. Oxalis palmifrons is also known as palm leaf false shamrock or simply false shamrock.

Either way, these names derive from their characteristic appearance. At the top of each stem, up to 20 tiny symmetrical fronds create a fan shape similar to palm leaves, making the plant look like a little cluster of small palm trees seen from above.

This fascinating and attractive blooming perennial comes in different colors. Most of the oxalis palmifrons species are lush green in the center with a pink or purple coloring towards the edges of the leaves. Some variations even have orange and red colors, often emerging during the growing and blooming seasons.

Flowering time is from 3 weeks to 3 months, during which the plant releases inflorescences, where the new ones replace the fading ones. Oxalis palmifrons produce flowers with white, pink, or yellow petals on stalks that reach just above the foliage.

Oxalis Palmifrons as a Houseplant

Oxalis palmifrons are native to the Western Karoo region of South Africa and need a similar desert-like warm environment to survive. They can be grown in a dry, bright spot in the garden in warm climates, but in cooler areas, they work well as container plants on a sunny windowsill.

They are also considerably compact and hardy plants, making them great for home. Oxalis palmifrons spreads extremely slowly: during its 10-year lifespan, the plant usually reaches a width of up to two feet (61 cm). As they grow very low to the ground, they never get taller than a few inches (7.5 cm).

Oxalis palmifrons still offer an interesting spectacle. One of the fascinating features of this slow-growing plant is that the leaves open in the morning and close in the evening. It also has a unique seasonal rhythm of growing and blooming during winter and resting in the summer: your plant will start to die back into bulbs during the spring months, and once autumn comes, your plant will sprout back into life.

oxalis palmifrons flower
Flower of oxalis palmifrons

However, this desert plant may not be best for homes with curious pets or small children. Oxalis palmifrons contains oxalic acid, which is toxic to pets and humans when ingested. Symptoms of oxalis poisoning in cats and dogs may cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. Consuming large amounts of this plant has adverse health effects also on humans, such as kidney damage.

Climate

Oxalis palmifrons native climate is one of the deserts of Karoo found in South Africa. In its habitat, this remarkable plant lays dormant during the dry summer heat and emerges from dormancy in autumn with the return of rain to parched earth.

They can be grown in USDA zones 7b through 11. The best temperatures for Oxalis palmifrons range between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 21 degrees Celsius) during the day and 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 18 degrees Celsius) at night. So even though they are winter growers, you should bring them inside if your winters get chillier than these temperatures.

Water

Oxalis palmifrons love frequent but moderate watering. Its tender root system is sensitive to excessive watering and getting waterlogged. It is best to slightly moisten the soil as the top layer dries and avoid stagnant water. Even though oxalis palmifrons are not remarkably picky regarding air humidity, spraying the leaves can invigorate the plant during especially dry air.

The watering schedule should be adjusted by the season. During summer dormancy, watering should be significally reduced to prevent root rotting: allow the soil to dry thoroughly before watering again.

To protect the tender stems and roots, it is best to water this plant only from the bottom. For this, your oxalis palmifrons needs a pot with proper draining holes. For watering, place the pot in a tray of water and let the water soak into the soil. The capillary effect allows the water to travel up through a loose mix of rocks and soil until it can’t travel any further.

Soil & Fertilizer

A loose and well-drained soil mix is essential for healthy oxalis palmifrons. Echoing its native environment, it likes the soil somewhat sandy and acidic rather than rich and organic. It will also appreciate a good top dress layer of small gravel.

To allow water to circulate freely, a rather deep than wide pot with an approximate size of 2.5’’ (7.9 fl oz/233 ml) is optimal for your plant.

Feed your oxalis palmifrons with fertilizer diluted to half or one-quarter of the strength recommended with whatever fertilizer you usually use. Feed it once every 3–4 weeks during the winter growing period. Don’t fertilize in its summer dormant stage – the bulbs must rest in order to continue growing in the autumn.

Light

light

Oxalis palmifrons love full to partial sun. A bright and dry spot in the garden is a good fit, or wherever it could get the most sunlight indoors. Giving your plant a lot of bright light creates conditions as close to its natural habitat as possible.

However, if you first start growing this desert plant, shade from the full sun must be provided. Oxalis palmifrons protect themselves from the sun with tiny hairs on the leaves, which take some time to grow fully on young plants. This is also something to remember when propagating your oxalis palmifrons.

Propagating

In the Karoo desert, oxalis palmifrons are very invasive and cover the ground in large fluffy “carpets”. This self-propagating plant is thus often classified as a weed.

There are also several ways to propagate oxalis palmifrons at home. One way is to split the plant gently into smaller pieces when repotting. You can also successfully propagate the plant by potting an offshoot from the parent plant. If you obtain seeds from your oxalis palmifrons, it is possible to grow a new plant directly from the seed.

After propagating, smaller plants in pots may need more frequent watering than the parent plant. If you are growing a new plant from seed, keeping the youngling away from direct sunlight is essential, as its leaves have not grown the protective hairs yet.

Problems

The oxalis palmifrons’ leaves changing color is the most immediate indicator that something is not sitting right with your plant. Watch out for these symptoms:

Leaves Turning Yellowish, Mushy Stems

Yellowish leaves and mushy stems often occur when your plant has been overwatered and may suffer from root rot because of excess water in the soil.

How To Fix?

Reduce watering and repot the plant in a container with bigger drainage holes. Make sure that the plant gets enough bright light and freely circulating air.

Leaves Turning Brown with Crispy Edges, Wilting of The Plant

Wilting signals that your oxalis palmifrons is thirsty, either from underwatering or too dry air.

How To Fix?

Adjust the watering schedule. Give the leaves an occasional spray with lukewarm water. Covering the soil with a layer of small gravel can also protect the plant from rapid drying.

However, if the leaves turn yellow or brown and drop in late spring, it is best to leave the plant alone. This is a signal of the summer dormancy beginning, and encouraging the plant to resprout with watering may only lead to overwatering the roots. The sudden appearance of leaf buds or leaves marks the end of the dormant period.

Pests

Most pest attacks occur parallel to overwatering and root rot, which makes oxalis palmifrons vulnerable, and turns the leaves and stems lifeless and yellow. In this case, treating your plant against pests goes hand in hand with reducing watering and improving drainage.

You might be dealing with spider mites, if you notice white webs on your plant. Treat the plant with weekly sprays of horticultural (neem) oil and daily wipe-downs of the leaves and stems as soon as webs emerge. It is also wise to cut back dead blooms and leaves regularly, as pests and bacteria may infest them.

In Conclusion

Oxalis palmifrons is a stunning plant with a lot of character and is rather easy to grow at home. Besides, when grown in the garden, it also benefits the wildlife: oxalis palmifrons is an outstanding bee and butterfly plant. When blooming, the flowers produce abundant nectar, a food source for honey bees and butterflies.

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