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Spreading Yellow Sorrel

Oxalis corniculata

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Oxalidaceae (Wood Sorrel)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Fields, gardens, lawns, meadows, roadsides, wasteland.

Yellow, 5 petals
Long-stalked, yellow, 5 petals. Borne in clusters and rarely solitary.
A narrow, cylindrical capsule, up to 2cm long.
Clover-like leaves. The long-stalked, compound leaves are divided into 3 leaflets. Each leaflet is heart-shaped with a notch in the end. The colour of the leaf can vary from light to dark green.
Other Names:
Creeping Red Sorrel, Creeping Wood Sorrel, Creeping Yellow Sorrel, Procumbent Yellow Sorrel, Sleeping Beauty.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Oxalis corniculata, also known as "creeping woodsorrel" or "creeping yellow sorrel," is a perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a hardy plant that can grow in a variety of soil types and can tolerate shade and dry conditions. It can be found in lawns, gardens, meadows and along roadsides. The plant has small yellow flowers and clover-like leaves. It is considered as a weed in some regions, and It can be difficult to control as it reproduces both by seed and underground rhizomes. It's also considered toxic for livestock and horses.


If you've ever seen a small, yellow-flowered plant that seems to grow almost everywhere, you might have encountered the spreading yellow sorrel, or Oxalis corniculata. This common plant is part of the Oxalis genus, which is known for its clover-like leaves and showy flowers. In this blog, we'll explore some of the interesting characteristics of spreading yellow sorrel and its significance.

Appearance and Habitat

Spreading yellow sorrel is a low-growing herbaceous plant that typically reaches heights of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm). Its leaves are trifoliate, meaning they have three leaflets, and are usually about an inch (2.5 cm) long. The leaves are bright green and have a distinctive shape that's often compared to a shamrock. The flowers of spreading yellow sorrel are typically small and yellow, and they're produced in clusters at the end of long, slender stems.

Spreading yellow sorrel is native to much of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It's found in a wide range of habitats, including lawns, gardens, fields, and disturbed areas. It's also adapted to different soil types and can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils.

Cultural Significance

Despite its small size, spreading yellow sorrel has played a significant role in many cultures around the world. In traditional Chinese medicine, the plant is used to treat a variety of ailments, including stomach pain, fever, and coughs. The leaves and stems of the plant contain high levels of vitamin C, and it's been used as a natural remedy for scurvy.

In some cultures, spreading yellow sorrel is also used as a culinary herb. The leaves have a tangy, lemon-like flavor and are often added to salads or used as a garnish. In Mexico, the plant is sometimes used to make a traditional beverage called "agua de Jamaica," which is made by boiling the leaves and flowers in water with sugar.

Ecological Importance

Spreading yellow sorrel is an important plant in many ecosystems. The plant has a symbiotic relationship with a type of bacteria called Rhizobium, which is found in the nodules of its roots. The bacteria can convert nitrogen gas from the atmosphere into a form that the plant can use, which helps to fertilize the soil and support other plant species in the area.

Spreading yellow sorrel is also an important source of food for many insects. The flowers are visited by a variety of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, while the leaves are eaten by a number of herbivorous insects, including caterpillars and beetles.

Final Thoughts

Spreading yellow sorrel may seem like a simple, unassuming plant, but it's actually a fascinating and important species with a rich cultural history and ecological significance. The plant's ability to grow in a wide range of habitats and adapt to different soil types makes it a valuable asset to many ecosystems, while its culinary and medicinal uses have made it an important plant in many cultures around the world. Next time you see a patch of spreading yellow sorrel, take a moment to appreciate all that this unassuming plant has to offer.

30 Interesting Facts About Spreading Yellow Sorrel

  1. Common Name: Spreading Yellow Sorrel is commonly known as "Creeping Yellow Sorrel" or "Yellow Woodsorrel."

  2. Botanical Classification: It belongs to the family Oxalidaceae and the genus Oxalis.

  3. Distribution: This plant is found in various parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

  4. Appearance: It is a low-growing, herbaceous plant with trifoliate leaves that resemble clover.

  5. Flower Colour: The flowers of Spreading Yellow Sorrel are typically bright yellow, with five petals.

  6. Edibility: The leaves of this plant are edible and have a sour taste due to oxalic acid content, making them suitable for salads or garnishes.

  7. Weed Status: Spreading Yellow Sorrel is considered a weed in many parts of the UK because of its ability to spread rapidly and compete with cultivated plants.

  8. Culinary Uses: In some cuisines, the leaves are used to add a tart flavour to dishes, similar to how lemon juice might be used.

  9. Medicinal Uses: Traditionally, it has been used in herbal medicine for its potential diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.

  10. Oxalic Acid: The plant contains oxalic acid, which can be harmful in large quantities and may contribute to kidney stone formation.

  11. Seed Pods: After flowering, the plant produces small seed pods, which, when ripe, can explode and scatter seeds up to several feet away.

  12. Perennial: Spreading Yellow Sorrel is a perennial plant, meaning it can come back year after year from its root system.

  13. Adaptability: It can thrive in a variety of soil types and is often found in lawns, gardens, and disturbed areas.

  14. Shamrock Connection: Some people confuse it with shamrocks because of its three-part leaves, but they are different plants.

  15. Weed Control: In the UK, gardeners often consider it a nuisance weed and use various methods to control its spread.

  16. Pesticide Resistance: Spreading Yellow Sorrel has developed resistance to certain herbicides in the UK, posing challenges for weed control.

  17. Ground Cover: Its low, spreading growth habit makes it a natural ground cover in some areas, helping to prevent soil erosion.

  18. Bee Attraction: The bright yellow flowers attract bees and other pollinators to gardens and wild areas.

  19. Cultural Significance: In some cultures, it is associated with folklore and superstitions, believed to bring good luck.

  20. Native Range: While it is common in the UK, it is not native to the British Isles but has become naturalized.

  21. Invasive Potential: In some regions, it is considered an invasive species due to its ability to outcompete native plants.

  22. Seed Dispersal: The tiny seeds of Spreading Yellow Sorrel can be dispersed by wind, water, or attached to animals' fur or feathers.

  23. Life Cycle: It has a short life cycle, with rapid germination and growth, allowing it to quickly colonize new areas.

  24. Root Structure: The plant has a fibrous root system that helps it anchor in place and absorb nutrients.

  25. Herbaceous Perennial: While it dies back in the winter, it regrows from its roots in the spring.

  26. Agricultural Impact: In agriculture, Spreading Yellow Sorrel is considered a pest because it competes with crops for nutrients and space.

  27. Phyllode Formation: In response to stress or mowing, the leaves can transform into flattened, stem-like structures called phyllodes.

  28. Leaf Movement: The leaves have the ability to fold down at night or in strong sunlight as a response to environmental conditions.

  29. Ethnobotanical Uses: Indigenous peoples in some regions have used it for medicinal purposes and as a food source.

  30. Seed Banking: Some botanical gardens and conservation organizations in the UK maintain seed banks to study and preserve Spreading Yellow Sorrel and other plants.


Spreading Yellow Sorrel filmed at Glasson Docks in Lancashire on the 30th July 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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