Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shamrocks and Clovers - Are you feeling lucky?

Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
When I was a kid, I used to hunt for four-leafed clovers in the belief that they brought good luck. I didn’t know then 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….

The ancient Celts of Wales carried sprigs of clover as a charm against evil spirits, particularly faeries. The clover might be tucked in one’s hat. Or multiple clovers might be sewn into a tiny bag and hung around the neck. This would enable the wearer to see through faery glamor – but it would only work once for each clover that was in the bag.

The faeries couldn't hide from you if you were
carrying a four-leaf clover.
Photo licensed from
Druids esteemed the four-leafed clover as a source of protection, because holding one would allow you to see not just faeries, but many 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. And in the Middle Ages, a four-leafed clover worn inside your shoe was believed to lead you to either love or treasure! (If you put one in each shoe, did you find both?)

Both shamrocks and four-leafed clovers come from the 
same plant: Common White Clover (Trifolium Repens).
Photo licensed from

The four-leafed clover is a symbol of good luck in many countries, but is most often associated with Ireland. The Irish claim that they have more of them growing there than anywhere else in the world. Maybe they do, since BOTH traditional Irish shamrocks and four-leafed clovers come from the very 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. Irish botanist Caleb Threlkeld verified this when he wrote about Trifolium Repens in his 1727 book about local flora: “This plant is worn by the people in their hats upon the seventeenth day of March yearly.”

True, there are some pretty potted plants sold around March 17th that claim to be official shamrocks, but they’re usually oxalis or wood sorrel. The leaves occur in a variety of colors, but apparently aren't brimming with good fortune. (I enjoy them anyway.)

The shamrock and the four-leafed clover are both
commonly associated with Ireland.

Photo: Public Domain
The Irish word for shamrock is seamróg, referring to the trefoil leaf of the clover plant. St. Patrick allegedly made it famous by taking an ordinary three-leafed clover and using it as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This is an excellent example of Christianity adopting – and changing – the symbols of ancient pagan faiths. The three leaves had previously been known as the three phases of the Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone!

So why are there four-leafed clovers if clover naturally has three leaves? Long thought to be a simple plant mutation, scientists have now found a recessive gene for the anomaly. 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 (see photo on this site - And in 2009, just before Obara died, he was credited with finding a clover with no less than 56 leaves!!!

Rabbits LOVE clover.
I wonder how many four leaf clovers
this little guy has eaten?

Photo licensed from
In Ireland and a few other places, a clover bearing more than four leaves is said to bring BAD luck. In other countries, however, there are different meanings 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

So just how rare are clovers with more than the standard three leaves? Estimates place them at about one in 10,000 when naturally grown. 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 etc. But to get enough of them, 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!

However, the luckiest man in the world just might be Edward Martin Sr. of Alaska. Guinness certified Martin's collection of 111,060 four-leaf clovers in 2007, and it's reported he has well over 160,000 now! 

(See how all those clovers were counted in this article in the Peninsula Clarion News - )


I grew up on Celtic faery stories. Not the ones where faeries are tiny beings with delicate wings, and as sweet-natured as they are pretty. Nope, I teethed on the ones where faeries come in every shape and size. Dark or light, terrifying or beautiful, sensual or cold, indifferent or cruel ... all are dangerous!

My Grim Series is based on one of my favorite fae legends (with thanks to my Welsh grandmother). The Grim is also known as the Black Dog, and his role is to act as a herald of death and misfortune. But how did he get a job like that? And what if he doesn't want it?


Watch for the upcoming release of STORM CROSSED, Book 4 of the Grim Series!

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