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Lucky You! Find out why the Shamrock and Four-Leaf Clover are not the Same

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Outdoor plants aren’t growing here in New England just yet but that hasn’t stopped the shamrock from popping up everywhere you look. To keep you in the know, here’s all you need to know about this little plant – fabled and practical – and the difference between what makes it a shamrock or a lucky charm!

The shamrock is widely believed to be the national symbol of Ireland but that really belongs to the harp. Instead, the shamrock (meaning “little clover” in Celtic) is actually the national flower of Ireland. Did you know the shamrock and the four-leaf clover are not the same? That’s right, “shamrock” is another name for the three-leaf white clover, and its lucky counterpart is the four-leaf-clover. A clover should have at least three leaves to be a shamrock and if it has more or less then it is not a shamrock… meaning all shamrocks are clovers but not all clovers are shamrocks! 

The roots of the shamrock’s symbolism for the Irish grew from historical reports that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity, representing the father, Son, and Holy Spirit (also faith, hope, and love). The fourth leaf is for luck and you have to be lucky to find one because there are approximately 10,000 three-leafs for every lucky four-leaf clover. That means you’ve got a 1 in 10,000 chance of discovering one!

Even though three-leaves are more commonly found than four, there have been reported cases of some clover stems being found with five (the fifth means wealth so keep your eyes peeled for those!) or six leaves. Surprisingly there is a Guinness record of a lucky clover found in Japan with 56 leaves. Now, that’s a lot of luck! These multiple leaf stems are a rarity because a four-leaf clover is an aberration of a three-leafed one because no clover plants naturally produce four (or more) leaves. Genomic studies of clover have found that the fourth leaf is a recessive trait or genetic mutation in the white clover plant just like blue eyes or blond hair in humans. In order for a stem to have four leaves, the recessive trait must be inherited from both of its plant parents.  

TIP: Think you found a four-leaf clover? If the leaves of your four-leaf clover are all the same size then it’s not your lucky day. True lucky clovers have three identical leaves and one a little smaller or a different shade of green.  

But clover isn’t all about luck. For example, one myth states  that clover will wither and die if planted outside of Ireland but actually clover is prolific and can grow almost anywhere, even in poor soil, which it loves! Technically clover is a legume, which means it can fix nitrogen in the soil.  The clover plant grabs nitrogen out of the air and uses bacteria on their roots to fix it into the soil, essentially making it a free fertilizer! Not only will it provide nitrogen for your vegetable garden but it makes a great living mulch. Planting clover can provide shade and keep the soil moist and weeds at bay, and its deep-growing roots help it thrive in dry weather.   Clover flowers will attract honey bees, improving pollination. definitely an added bonus for your garden!  Clover flowers have a lot of nectar allowing those busy buzzing bees to make lots of clover honey.

Honey Bees LOVE clover! Photo:

So, clover is good for bees and the ground but did you know that it can also be good for humans?  The leaves of white clover are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Theycan be used in salads and soups or on their own as a vegetable, cooked like spinach.  Clover flowers and seed pods can even be dried and ground into a powder and used as flour or made into tea.  The dried leaves will add a vanilla flavor to baked goods. Medicinally, the Cherokee used the tea of white clover for fevers and the Algonkian used a tea infusion for coughs and colds.  Red clover has been used to treat anything from hot flashes to osteoporosis, arthritis, and skin and hair issues.  Researchers have recently reported that taking 40 – 80 mg of red clover daily may even help reduce severe menopausal hot flashes.

We’re sorry you’ll have to wait until the weather warms up to start looking for the real clover plant, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying St. Patrick’s Day!.  And, now you can impress the Irish because you know that there is a difference between a shamrock and the lucky four-leaf clover! 

One final note, you won’t need a four-leaf clover to get 17% off lingerie this week at Julianna Rae, we call it a sale, not luck!  See you in the next blog.

Deb Fries is a freelance writer and designer and worked for Julianna Rae in customer service and graphics, she now write for the blog at