SHAMROCKS, CLOVERS AND LUCK


This post was first pubbed
in March 2012, but I just HAD
to share it again -- kind like
the decorations you drag
out of the closet every year!
When I was a kid, I used to hunt for four-leafed clovers in the belief that they brought good luck. I was unaware that one was only considered lucky if you found it by accident – the clover was useless if you looked for it on purpose! No wonder I didn’t get the pony I was hoping for….

It’s said that Eve carried a four-leafed clover out of the Garden of Eden (probably figuring that she and Adam were going to need all the help they could get). And the ancient Celts of Wales carried sprigs of clover as a charm against evil spirits. A four-leafed clover worn inside your shoe would lead you to either love or treasure! (If you put one in each shoe, did you find both?)

Druids esteemed the four-leafed clover as a source of protection, because holding one would allow you to see fairies and other supernatural creatures. A salve was sometimes made of four-leafed clovers and applied to the “third eye” area of the forehead, to bring out psychic abilities. Or the clovers might be sewn into a tiny bag and hung around the neck. This would reveal the fairy folk to the wearer – but it would only work once for each clover that was in the bag.

Common White Clover,
Trifolium Repens 
The four-leafed clover is a symbol of good luck in many countries, but is most associated with Ireland. The Irish claim that they have more of them growing there than anywhere else. Maybe, since both the Irish shamrock and four-leafed clovers are said to come from the same plant:  Common White Clover, also known as Dutch clover (Trifolium Repens). That’s right, it’s the same stuff that sometimes takes over the lawn on this side of the Atlantic.  True, there are some potted plants sold around March 17th that claim to be official shamrocks, but they’re usually oxalis or wood sorrel. Pretty, but apparently not brimming with good fortune.

St. Patrick with shamrock
St. Patrick made the shamrock famous by taking an ordinary clover leaf (which has just three leaves normally) and using it as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity which is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This is a prime example of Christianity adopting – and changing – the symbols of pagan faiths. The three leaves had previously been known by the Celts as the three phases of the Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone!

So if the three-leafed “shamrock” (clover) came to represent the Christian Trinity, what did the four-leafed clover come to mean? Early Christians saw the four leaves as creating the sign of the cross. Some maintained that the fourth leaf stood for God’s grace and it was a sign of favor if you found one. Others have named the four leaves as Faith, Hope, Love and Luck.

21-leafed clover
So why are there four-leafed clovers when clover naturally has three leaves? Long thought to be a simple plant mutation, scientists have now found a recessive gene for the anomoly. In fact, there are no known limits as to how many leaves a clover can have. According to Guinness, the world record for the most leaves on a clover stem has been held by Shigeo Obara of Japan since 2002 when he discovered a clover with 18 leaves. He bested his record a few years later with a 21-leafed clover. And in 2009, he was credited with finding a clover with no less than 56 leaves!!!

How lucky is a clover with more than four leaves? In Ireland and a few other places, it’s said that it brings nothing but bad luck. In other places, there’s a different meaning for each clover according to leaf number:
     Two-leafed clover = love
     Four-leafed clover = luck 
     Five-leafed clover = attracts wealth
     Six-leafed clover = fame
     Seven-leafed clover = long life

Clovers with more than the standard three leaves are said to be lucky because they’re rare, and estimates place them at about one in 10,000 when naturally grown. They’re not evenly distributed, though – some patches of clover produce many of them (I found dozens in my yard as a kid), and others grow very few of the multi-leafed variety. 

Because the four-leafed clover is such a well-known symbol of good fortune, an entire industry has sprung up around them. You can buy genuine four-leafed clovers pressed between glass, embedded in resin, made into jewelry or just about anything you can think of – and to do it, some horticulturalists have refined the clover plant using the newly-discovered genes. In their specialized plots, four-leafed clovers occur about once in every 41 plants! How much luck these contain, however, is anyone’s guess.

One last word of advice:
  Never iron a four-leafed clover. You don’t want to press your luck! 

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2 comments:

  1. Great article Dani! I had no idea that clover's could have so many leaves :) Love reading your work, it's always packed full of so much information.

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  2. Thanks Melissa! I love investigating this stuff. :)

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