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Wood Sorrel

Do you know the difference between a weed and a flower? You might not be aware of it, but there is probably a weed growing in your backyard right now! With its pretty flowers and delicate features, the common wood sorrel can be deceiving.

So, what are you to do about this common lawn weed? Read on to learn all about the common wood sorrel, how to get rid of it, and if there are any pros to having it on your property!

Closeup of a yellow wood sorrel flower.

What is a Wood Sorrel?

The Oxalis genus of the plant known as the wood sorrel has 550 species that are common worldwide. However, there are several that are common within the U.S. that you may have come across, including the Bermuda buttercup.

The binomial name of the common wood sorrel (or, woodsorrel) is Oxalis acetosella. It is sometimes considered simply a flower but is categorized as a weed. Growing throughout the U.S. and Canada, this plant has been documented in 46 states. It has several species within the genus that vary by flower color.

The common yellow wood sorrel, oxalis stricta, is a yellow weed you may call sour grass, sheep’s clover, sheep weed, lemon clover, or pickle plant.

Oxalis montana, commonly called the white wood sorrel, is also known as mountain wood sorrel, shamrock clover, or sours.

The beautiful violet wood sorrel, which is classified as Oxalis violacea, has flower petals of a violet color and is sometimes called the sour trefoil.

Yellow flowers of the Bermuda buttercup wood sorrel.
Bermuda buttercup wood sorrel.

The Bermuda buttercup, or Oxalis pes-caprae, is another common wood sorrel. Its beautiful yellow petals have given it the nickname cape sorrel, English weed, soursop, and goat’s foot.

Finally, the creeping wood sorrel, or Oxalis corniculata, is often called the sleeping beauty and also displays yellow flowers.

These weeds are distinctive from others in that the seed pods grow at an almost upright 90-degree angle from the main stalk of the weed. It’s quite forgiving of various conditions and is often found in sidewalk cracks, on the side of the road, and in fields or wooded areas. They tend to grow rapidly in newly cleared areas of land, which is why you will also find them in landfills and construction sites.

What Does It Look Like?

The white flowers with light red stripes of the mountain wood sorrel.
Mountain wood sorrel.

The wood sorrel may look dainty and attractive, but this summer annual weed can grow up to 15 inches if left unattended.

The palmately compound leaves are divided into three smooth leaflets that are heart-shaped, similar to that of clover. They are usually green in color but can sometimes appear to have a purple hue to them. Each leaflet has slightly hairy margins and a crease along the midvein that allows it to fold in half at nighttime.

The flowers come in many shades, depending on the species, including white, yellow, violet, pink, and purple. With 5 petals to each flower, they grow in clusters of up to 5 flowers. They bloom from spring through fall or year-round in warmer climates.

The flowers are immediately followed by a long, thin seed pod, or fruit, that resembles a small okra. It can launch its seeds 8-10 feet once released in an explosion of activity.

Why is it Classified as a Weed?

Closeup of the reddish-purple flowers of the violet wood sorrel.
Voilet wood worrel.

As the motivational speaker Wayne Dyer said, “The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”

A weed is considered different from flowers due to personal perception. At the heart of the matter, weeds are simply plants that spread rapidly and grow in an unwanted area. They are often considered not valued and grow vigorously.

Many are not attractive, are invasive, and some can even be damaging. However, many are beautiful. The common wildflower is one example of a weed that is often accepted by people as being a flower, not a weed.

While the common wood sorrel is considered a weed, the flowers make it an alluring addition to the garden, and some people may choose to cultivate it.

This weed has little effect on surrounding native plant life and should not be considered dangerous to your garden. It’s believed to be a great plant for bees and butterflies, and for providing a food source for local wildlife. Although, you may not want gophers and other small wildlife in your garden eating your produce!

How to Get Rid of the Wood Sorrel

Closeup of the green leaves of wood sorrel that resemble shamrocks.

The easiest way to control this weed is by hand pulling it from the ground. This may be tedious, but pulling them early will prevent them from spreading later in the year.

You can also control the wood sorrel by adding extra mulch in your garden to keep it from the sunlight. This will help prevent it from growing.

It is quite easy to remove from the ground and leaves no roots behind to regerminate. However, take caution to weed before the seed pods release to avoid excess weeding in the future.

Many germicides don’t work on this particular weed. This is one reason why it grows in such abundance in most of the U.S.

Aim to use a pre-emergent herbicide to tackle the common wood sorrel.

Begin by pulling out the weed to the best of your ability. Once cleared, apply dithiopyr, isoxaben, pendimethalin, or prodiamine to the area. These pre-emergent herbicides can be applied up to 3 times yearly to continue common wood sorrel prevention.

Is There a Good Side to the Wood Sorrel?

White wood sorrel growing wild.

If you don’t mind that a weed is growing in your yard, then you could enjoy its pretty flowers! As mentioned above, it’s also a draw for butterflies and other wildlife, if you’re interested in cultivating that type of environment in your yard!

You can also make a homemade herbal tea using this weed! Interested in tasting this sour-punched Herbal Wood Sorrel Tea? Grab a cup of tea, a scone, and invite a friend over!

Note: As mentioned below, you should consume this plant sparingly to avoid negative side effects.


Wood sorrel growing among moss.

Are wood sorrels edible?

Yes. The flowers, leaves, and unripe fruit are edible. They reflect a tart, lemony flavor that makes a great addition to soup, salad, and sauces. It’s best to consume in moderation since it contains oxalic acid which can be toxic when eaten in high quantities.

Does the wood sorrel have any health benefits?

It does! It’s high in vitamin C. Throughout history it’s been used medicinally to treat ailments like UTIs, fevers, scurvy, mouth sores, and sore throats. And it has a history of being a part of the diets’ of ancient cultures.

Are there any other uses for the plant?

There are! Other than being used medicinally and as a food source, the weed can be boiled, creating an orange dye.

Now You Know About the Wood Sorrel!

Closeup of a white wood sorrel flower.

Are you ready to keep an eye out for this interesting weed? You may wish to allow it to continue growing on your property, or you may plan to rid the weed from your yard altogether. But this is one plant you will certainly notice all around you now that you’ve learned about the wood sorrel!

If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.