The Differences Between Four-Leaf Clovers and Shamrocks

Just around the time spring officially rolls around the corner, St. Patrick’s Day graces us on March. 17 each year, filling grocery stores with an explosion of cheerful green garlands, frosted cookies, and more. Clovers, as you might know, are the biggest symbols of the holiday. Both four-leaf clovers and shamrocks are associated with good luck, which might be a little confusing. You’ll find an abundance of both in St. Patrick’s Day decor. However, St. Patrick himself promoted Christianity using the three-leaf clover, aka, the shamrock. So, how did we get to this point? Here’s the lore that you should know, as well as the differences between these plants.                                             

People now believe that Patrick, when a Catholic missionary, used the three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity, aka the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Technically, St. Patrick himself wasn’t Irish (born instead in Britain in 387 A.D.), but he is attributed to introducing Christianity to Ireland. And long before Patrick, the Druids also used three-leaf clovers in ancient rituals as well, believing that three was the perfect number and had mystical properties.

If there’s no Holy Quartet, then why then has the four-leaf clover become so popular? Let’s go back to the Druids. The Druids were also really into four-leaf clovers. They believed that carrying one would ward off demons and evil spirits. The four leaves in a four-leaf clover symbolize faith, hope, love, and luck. Perhaps they might also allow you to see fairies, but the main reason why they’re lucky is probably because they’re hard to find. 

The four-leaf clover likely comes from a genetic mutation of the three-leaf white clover (Trifolium repens). Statistically speaking, you’ll find one four-leaf clover out of 10,000 clovers. That’s difficult but not rare — that covers an area of about 12 square feet. Just an FYI: there are plants with four leaves, such as the pennywort, but you can identify a legitimate four-leaf clover in that it has three same-sized leaves and one slightly smaller leaf. 

If you’re searching for extra luck, you might just find it on your lawn. Clovers are a common weed, one which people often readily pull out when manicuring their front yards. They’re drought-tolerant and don’t require fertilizer to grow. They also produce flowers, which attract beneficial insects such as honeybees. You might find that some companies sell white clover seed mixes that supposedly yield more four-leaf clovers, but you’ll probably find the same amount in a regular mix. Try your luck with it. 

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