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Oxalis latifolia (sorrel)


  • Last modified
  • 28 March 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Oxalis latifolia
  • Preferred Common Name
  • sorrel
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Dicotyledonae

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Oxalis latifolia flowers and foliage.
TitleFlowers and foliage
CaptionOxalis latifolia flowers and foliage.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Oxalis latifolia flowers and foliage.
Flowers and foliageOxalis latifolia flowers and foliage.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Flowers of typical O. latifolia (right), and 'Cornwall' types (left).
CaptionFlowers of typical O. latifolia (right), and 'Cornwall' types (left).
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Flowers of typical O. latifolia (right), and 'Cornwall' types (left).
FlowersFlowers of typical O. latifolia (right), and 'Cornwall' types (left).©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Carpet of O. latifolia in tea in southern India.
CaptionCarpet of O. latifolia in tea in southern India.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Carpet of O. latifolia in tea in southern India.
HabitCarpet of O. latifolia in tea in southern India.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Oxalis latifolia Kunth (1822)

Preferred Common Name

  • sorrel

International Common Names

  • English: fishtail oxalis (Australia)
  • Spanish: trebol de huerta

Local Common Names

  • Bolivia: taru taru
  • Brazil: trevo
  • Colombia: acedera; trebol de jardin; trebol falso
  • Cuba: vinagrillo
  • Germany: Breitblaettriger sauerklee
  • India: khati-buti; phiphru; tipatia weed
  • Indonesia: tjalintjing gede
  • Madagascar: kodidimborana
  • Mauritius: oseille; trefle
  • Mexico: acedera; acederilla; trebol
  • South Africa: red garden sorrel; rooituinsuring
  • Spain: chuminbedderra
  • Sri Lanka: puliyarai
  • Uganda: katanpuni
  • Venezuela: vinagrillo

EPPO code

  • OXALA (Oxalis latifolia)

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Geraniales
  •                         Family: Oxalidaceae
  •                             Genus: Oxalis
  •                                 Species: Oxalis latifolia

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page O. latifolia is free of nomenclatural problems, though the botanical authority is sometimes indicated as 'H.B.&K.' instead of 'Kunth'.


Top of page A number of Oxalis species are unusual among dicotyledons in producing scaly bulbs. O. latifolia is one of these. The structure of the bulb, 1-2 cm diameter, is complex with two main types of scale which Jackson (1960) refers to as 'membranous' and 'true scales'. Membranous scales are the first to be produced, whether in newly forming bulbils, or at the apex of bulbs resuming growth after dormancy. These scales may or may not produce petioles and leaves from their tips, and have axillary buds which develop into peduncles/inflorescences in larger bulbs, but not in first-year bulbils. After a number of membranous scales have developed, narrower true scales are formed. These true scales have axillary buds which do not develop in the first season but will develop into stolons the following year. At the end of the season, the leaves die down leaving their membranous bases to form a protective layer. When growth resumes, the outermost scales disintegrate, new scales and leaves develop at the apex, while stolons grow out from the axils of the old true scales. Estelita-Teixeira (1982) describes the differences in bulb structure between O. latifolia, O. corymbosa and O. oxyptera. Each bulb produces up to 14 leaves, but with some leaves developing from daughter bulbs, Marshall and Gitari (1988) record up to 45 leaves per plant. There is no stem, other than the short axis of the bulb. The root is a fleshy tuber up to 2 cm in diameter at the top, resembling a small carrot but whitish. Under dry conditions, this root shrinks and contracts, drawing the parent bulb deeper into the soil.

In the typical form of O. latifolia the bulbils are formed at the end of stolons up to 10 cm long, which may number 30 or more. The leaves, on petioles up to 30 cm long, are glabrous, trifoliate, with individual leaflets broadly fish-tail shaped, 3-6 cm across. The leaflets fold along the midrib at night. The peduncles, about the same length, carry an umbel of 5-12 flowers, each flower 10-20 mm across, erect while open but reflexed before and after. The five sepals each have two orange glands at the tip. The five petals are greenish on the outside, a rich purple inside, changing abruptly to become paler towards the base. O. latifolia has the potential for tristyly, having two sets of five stamens of different length but weedy populations are almost invariably short-styled, with medium and long stamens.

In Cornwall (UK), Spain, New Zealand and California, USA, atypical forms (sometimes referred to as 'Cornwall type') occur, with bulbils all sessile (no stolons), leaflets much more rounded (less broadly fish-tailed), and flowers distinctly paler in colour (see Young 1958; Esler, 1962; Robb, 1963). At least two different atypical clones occur in Cornwall. These are also short-styled, with the possible exception of one mid-styled population in New Zealand (Esler, 1962).

When seeds are formed, they are orange to dark yellow, about 1 mm long and ribbed. The capsules have the explosive character of O. corniculata and seeds may be thrown up to 40 cm (Rivals, 1960).

Chromosome number (2n) = 14. Triploid forms are known from Mexico (Holm et al., 1997).

Useful review papers on O. latifolia include those by Holm et al. (1997), Parsons and Cuthbertson (1992) and Marshall (1987).


Top of page O. latifolia is a native of Central America and equatorial South America but has been introduced very widely in Africa, Asia and Australasia; to some extent deliberately as an ornamental, but also as ground cover under coffee in Uganda, and as rabbit food in India. It is particularly successful at high altitude in India and Uganda, and also in subtropical situations in New Zealand and southern Africa.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BhutanPresentParker, 1992
IndiaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
-Himachal PradeshPresentKunar & Singh, 1990
-KarnatakaPresentPrathibha et al., 1995
-Tamil NaduPresentMatthew, 1969
-Uttar PradeshPresentArya, 1995
-UttarakhandPresentGopinath and Kundu, 2008
IndonesiaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
IranPresentHolm et al., 1979
NepalPresentHolm et al., 1979
PakistanPresentAnjum and Mohammad, 2003
Sri LankaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
TaiwanPresentHolm et al., 1979


CongoPresentHolm et al., 1979
EgyptPresentEl-Khanagry, 2005
EthiopiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
KenyaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
MauritiusPresentHolm et al., 1979
MozambiquePresentHolm et al., 1979
NigeriaPresentHolm et al., 1979
RwandaPresentMostade, 1979
South AfricaPresentHolm et al., 1979
TanzaniaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
UgandaWidespreadHolm et al., 1979
ZambiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
ZimbabwePresentHolm et al., 1979

North America

MexicoPresentPérez-Calix, 2009

Central America and Caribbean

El SalvadorPresentHolm et al., 1979
GuatemalaPresentHolm et al., 1979
HondurasWidespreadHolm et al., 1979

South America

BoliviaPresentHolm et al., 1979
BrazilPresentEstelita & Teixeira, 1982
-Minas GeraisPresentNunas-Vidal et al., 1987
-Sao PauloPresentEstelita-Texeira, 1982
ColombiaPresentHolm et al., 1979
EcuadorPresentHolm et al., 1979
PeruPresentHolm et al., 1979
UruguayPresentHolm et al., 1979


FrancePresentHolm et al., 1979
IrelandPresentValentine, 1968
PortugalPresentValentine, 1968
-AzoresPresentValentine, 1968
SpainPresentHolm et al., 1979
UKIndigenous, localizedValentine, 1968


AustraliaPresentHolm et al., 1979
-New South WalesPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
-QueenslandPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
-South AustraliaPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
-TasmaniaPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
-VictoriaPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
-Western AustraliaPresentParsons and WT, Cuthbertson, 1992
New ZealandWidespreadHolm et al., 1979

Risk of Introduction

Top of page O. latifolia is a prohibited import to Australia.


Top of page O. latifolia is a plant of the humid tropics, especially at higher elevations (up to 3000 m in Colombia), and of the subtropics. It is favoured by intensive cultivation, especially in orchards, gardens and plantation crops, where removal of other vegetation allows it to thrive, and where cultivations help to spread the bulbs.

Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page The host list above includes the more important field crops in which O. latifolia has been reported to cause problems. However, this species occurs in a very wide range of crops in the tropics and subtropics, and is perhaps of greatest importance when it infests ornamental nurseries and contaminates stock that is sold. Hence the 'host range' can include a vast range of fruit and ornamental species, annual and perennial, as well as many vegetable crops.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Allium cepa (onion)LiliaceaeMain
Arachis hypogaea (groundnut)FabaceaeMain
Camellia sinensis (tea)TheaceaeMain
Coffea (coffee)RubiaceaeMain
Glycine max (soyabean)FabaceaeMain
Gossypium hirsutum (Bourbon cotton)MalvaceaeMain
Malus domestica (apple)RosaceaeMain
Manihot esculenta (cassava)EuphorbiaceaeMain
Oryza sativa (rice)PoaceaeMain
Saccharum officinarum (sugarcane)PoaceaeMain
Solanum tuberosum (potato)SolanaceaeMain
Zea mays (maize)PoaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

Top of page O. latifolia is a bulbous perennial, spreading vegetatively by bulbs and rarely producing seeds. In most countries, it is not thought to set seed at all, but Rivals (1960) notes that it does so in France. It apparently has the potential for tristyly, having two sets of five stamens of different length. Weedy populations are almost invariably short-styled, though one of the atypical, rounded-leaved forms in New Zealand is reported to be mid-styled (Esler, 1962).

The behaviour of the bulbs of O. latifolia has been the subject of several studies. Most bulbils remain dormant while still attached to the parent plant, though Marshall and Gitari (1988) note that the first bulbils to be produced usually develop one or more leaves while still attached. Factors involved in breaking the dormancy of the bulbs include chilling (5°C for 3 weeks) and dry heat (45°C for several hours) (Chawdhry and Sagar, 1974a). Dormancy can last more for more than one year (Holm et al., 1997). In a study by Esler (1962) all bulbs emerged from 8 cm depth and 20% from 20 cm. On sprouting, the bulbs produce a ring of adventitious roots, one of which later becomes the main fleshy taproot. Petioles are then produced from the inner membranous scales. Stolon development follows the formation of the taproot. Plants growing from bulbils may not flower in their first or even second season of growth but develop gradually larger bulbs. Eventually, peduncles develop from the axils of the outer membranous scales. The parent bulb disintegrates at the end of a growing season but is replaced by a new main bulb, which may draw on the taproot for resources as the latter shrivels.

O. latifolia occurs on a wide range of soil types. The bulbs survive short periods of freezing but are killed by prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures.

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Puccinia oxalidis Pathogen


Top of page Holm et al. (1997) record that O. latifolia is a weed of at least 37 countries in at least 30 crops. It is listed as a major weed in India, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Uganda, particularly in cassava, maize, upland rice, tea, potato, coffee, cereals, sugarcane, orchards and vegetables. It can achieve dominance under certain intensive cultivation systems which remove other competing weeds, and spread of bulbs. Reports on the competitiveness of, and hence yield reducing potential of O. latifolia are somewhat contradictory. Atwal and Gopal (1972) recorded 56% reduction in maize yield from uncontrolled O. latifolia. However, Thomas (1991) reported no apparent effect on maize yield from populations of 33-50 plants/m² in four successive seasons, when all other weeds had been controlled by a mixture of pre-emergence herbicides. The weed is of undisputed importance in horticultural nurseries where it may infest the produce sold and lead to loss of reputation and occasionally to business closure.

O. latifolia is an alternate host of Puccinia sorghi.

Uses List

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  • Host of pest


  • Poisonous to mammals

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page Other weedy Oxalis species include the annual O. corniculata, the rhizomatous O. stricta, and the bulbous perennials O. pes-caprae, O. corymbosa, O. semiloba and O. oxyptera. The first three of these are yellow-flowered and could not be confused at the flowering stage. In the vegetative stage the first two are distinguished by the presence of stems, while the leaflets of O. pes-caprae are less broadly fish-tailed and almost always have at least some dark spots.

O. corymbosa is a widespread weed, overlapping in distribution with O. latifolia in some areas. It differs in having more rounded leaflets, distinguished from those of 'Cornwall type' O. latifolia by the presence of orange glands around the leaf margins, while the flowers have a less uniform purple coloration, with darker contrasting veins which extend towards the base of the petals.

O. semiloba occurs in eastern and southern Africa and has foliage and flowers similar to those of O. latifolia, but uprooting reveals a distinct vertical stem above the bulb.

O. oxyptera occurs in Brazil and is very similar to O. latifolia above ground but the underground 'bulb' is elongated to form a scaly vertical rhizome (Estelita-Teixeira, 1982).

Prevention and Control

Top of page Cultural Control

O. latifolia is exceptionally difficult to control by manual or mechanical means. Superficial hoeing or hand-pulling does nothing to destroy the bulbs, while harrowing and rotary tillage helps only to disperse them. A combination of deep tillage and desiccation can be helpful. Thomas (1991) noted that chisel ploughing followed by mouldboard and/or disc ploughing resulted in more suppression than chisel ploughing alone. Defoliation by mowing has to be repeated many times to have substantial effect. Chawdhry and Sagar (1974b) showed that clipping was needed at least five times to reduce growth by 90%, while Esler (1962) showed that monthly defoliation had almost no useful effect. The surest form of cultural control is by the use of smothering crops or mulching. Ingle et al. (1995) confirmed the effectiveness of black polythene or 'weed matting' over one and two year periods in New Zealand, while Ochoa and Zaragoza (1981) refer to the use of fodder crops in Spain. There are no reports on solarization, but there seems no reason why this would not be effective under suitable high temperature/clear sky conditions.

Chemical Control

The most successful chemical treatments have been with fumigants. Apart from methyl bromide, which is no longer available for this use, soil drenches with metam-sodium have given good results (Hunter and Over de Linden, 1958), though control is not always complete (Preest, 1964).

Many standard herbicides fail to control O. latifolia and tend to favour it. These include most triazines and metolachlor. However, Marshall (1987) lists a range of compounds suitable for specific crop situations. These include trifluralin, oxyfluorfen, oxadiazon, terbacil, EPTC and diuron as pre-emergence treatments. Other compounds with potential include pendimethalin and imazethapyr. Chlorsulfuron, metribuzin and methabenzthiazuron are effective against O. pes-caprae and could be useful on O. latifolia (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). Among post-emergence treatments 2,4-D is only effective at high doses, whilst paraquat needs repeated application. Glyphosate is especially valuable in tree and fruit crops, preferably at the bulb exhaustion stage.


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Anjum Perveen; Mohammad Qaiser, 2003. Pollen flora of Pakistan - XXII. Oxalidaceae. Pakistan Journal of Botany, 35(1):3-6.

Arya MPS, 1995. Phytosociological studies of kharif season weeds with special reference to Oxalis latifolia in U. P. Hills. Indian Journal of Weed Science, 27:83-86.

Atwal BS; Gopal R, 1972. Oxalis latifolia and its control by chemical and mechanical methods in hills. Indian Journal of Weed Science, 4(2):74-80.

Chawdhry MA; Sagar GR, 1974. Control of Oxalis latifolia H.B.K. and O. pes-caprae L. by defoliation. Weed Research, 14(5):293-299.

Chawdhry MA; Sagar GR, 1974. Dormancy and sprouting of bulbs in Oxalis latifolia H.B.K. and O. pes-caprae L. Weed Research, 14(6):349-354.

El-Khanagry SSG, 2005. New records of dicotyledonous taxa to the flora of Egypt. Bulletin of Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University, 56(1):89-105.

Esler AE, 1962. Some aspects of the autecology of Oxalis latifolia H. B. K. Proceedings of the 15th New Zealand Weed Control Conference, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 87-90.

Estelita-Teixeira ME, 1982. Shoot anatomy of three bulbous species of Oxalis. Annals of Botany, 49(6):805-813.

Gopinath KA; Kundu S, 2008. Evaluation of metsulfuron-methyl and chlorimuron-ethyl for weed control in direct-seeded rice (Oryza sativa). Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 78(5):466-469.

Holm LG; Doll J; Holm E; Pancho JV; Herberger JP, 1997. World Weeds: Natural Histories and Distribution. New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Holm LG; Pancho JV; Herberger JP; Plucknett DL, 1979. A geographical atlas of world weeds. New York, USA: John Wiley and Sons, 391 pp.

Hunter JA; Over de Linden AJ, 1958. The Oxalis problem. Growth characteristics and control of two species. New Zealand Gardener, 15:23-33.

Ingle T; Wright S; Popay I, 1995. Mulches and fatty acid herbicides for the control of fishtail oxalis. Proceedings of the forty eighth New Zealand plant protection conference, Angus Inn, Hastings, New Zealand, August 8-10, 1995., 333-334; 1 ref.

Jackson DI, 1960. A growth study of Oxalis latifolia H. B. K. New Zealand Journal of Science, 3:600-609.

Kumar S; Singh CM, 1990. Studies on ecology of Oxalis latifolia H. B. and K. and Ageratum conyzoides L. Indian Journal of Weed Science, 22(1-2):78-82.

Marshall G, 1987. A review of the biology and control of selected weed species in the genus Oxalis: O. stricta L., O. latifolia H.B.K. and O. pes-caprp L. Crop Protection, 6(6):355-364.

Marshall G; Gitari JN, 1988. Studies on the growth and development of Oxalis latifolia. Annals of Applied Biology, 112(1):143-150.

Matthew KM, 1969. The exotic flora of Kodaikanal Palni Hills. Records of the Botanical Survey of India, 20(1).

Mostade JM, 1979. Contribution to chemical control of Oxalis latifolia. Bulletin Agricole du Rwanda, 12(3):137-143.

Nunes Vidal W; Rodrigues Vidal MR; Cruz de Almeida E; Faria Vieira M, 1987. Flora of Vicosa. V. Oxalidaceae. Experientip, 30(2):13-24.

Ochoa J MJ; Zaragoza L C, 1981. Presence of Oxalis latifolia Kunth. in irrigated crops in the central Ebro Valley. Presencia de Oxalis latifolia Kunth. en cultivos de regadio en el Valle medio del Ebro. [Paper given at] Herbicidas en Hortofruticultura. XIII Jornadas de Estudio de la Asociacion Interprofesional para el Desarrollo Agrario 1981., 8 pp.

Parker C, 1992. Weeds of Bhutan. Weeds of Bhutan., vi + 236 pp.

Parsons WT; Cuthbertson EG, 1992. Noxious Weeds of Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Inkata Press, 692 pp.

Pérez-Calix E, 2009. Oxalidaceae. (Oxalidaceae.) Flora del Bajío y de Regiones Adyacentes, No.164:51 pp.

Prathibha NC; Muniyappa TV; Murthy BG, 1995. Studies on chemical weed control of Oxalis latifolia on growth, yield and quality of grapes. Journal of Maharashtra Agricultural Universities, 20(2):202-205; 9 ref.

Preest DS, 1964. Effectiveness of methyl bromide, dazomet and metham in eradicating Oxalis latifolia. 17th New Zealand Weed and Pest Control Conference, Rotorua, New Zealand, 109-114.

Rivals P, 1960. On the life and problems of control of Oxalis latifolia Kunth. Journal of Agriculture Tropicale et Botanique Applique, 7:397-405.

Robb SM, 1963. Oxalis latifolia Kunth. New Phytologist, 62:75-79.

Thomas PEL, 1991. The effect of Oxalis latifolia competition in maize. South African Journal of Plant and Soil, 8(3):132-135; 9 ref.

Valentine DH, 1968. LXXXII. Oxalidaceae. In: Tutin TG, Heywood VH, Burges NA, Moore DM, Valentine DH, Walters SM, Webb DA, eds. Flora Europaea, Volume 2. Rosaceae to Umbelliferae. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 192-193.

Young DP, 1958. Oxalis in the British Isles. Watsonia, 4(2):51-69.

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