Every kid has squatted down in a field of weeds for hours searching endlessly for that elusive four-leaf clover. The chances of finding one may be small, but imagine plucking that little guy out of the ground and knowing your day was going to turn around! But, would it? Can a plant really bring you good luck?
One story of the lucky origin of the four-leaf clover goes back to the Bible. Eve, getting ready to flee the Garden of Eden, supposedly took a four-leaf clover with her as a souvenir. Now, when you find one, it’s thought to be a little piece of paradise.
Another school of thought, more closely associated to our St. Patrick’s Day purposes, harkens to ancient Celtic druids. They would carry clovers with them to ward off evil spirits, a practice that eventually turned into a legend that said you’d be able to see wicked fairies coming and make your escape.
There’s also a poem that tells the tale of the four-leaf clover’s charms and specifies that each respective leaf signifies fame, wealth, health and faithful love -- all very lucky things to have, I’d say.
But if you really want to get it down to nitty-gritty science, a four-leaf clover is lucky to find just because it’s so rare. The fourth leaf of this particular plant (Trifolium repens) is the result of a genetic mutation. Normally, the gene that creates the fourth leaf is suppressed, so the leaf only shows up when that gene is, for some reason, not repressed when the plant grows. So, really, the fact that four-leaf clovers exist at all is lucky.
As for its connection to St. Patrick’s Day, let’s make a distinction, here: A four-leaf clover isn’t a shamrock, and the shamrock is actually more synonymous with Ireland and St. Patrick’s day than its lucky counterpart. A shamrock is a shamrock as long as it has its standard three leaves and is considered a national emblem, according to TIME. It’s been the unofficial flower of Ireland for centuries, ever since legend says -- there are supposedly no official writings that corroborate this story -- that St. Patrick used it to educate nonbelievers about the Holy Trinity (he was trying to convert the Irish to Christianity).
Later, after St. Patrick’s death, shamrocks would be worn on lapels and dresses of the poverty-stricken, because they wanted to look nice for church on Patty’s feast day (March 17, in case you were wondering).
When Irish immigrants arrived in the United States, they couldn’t find shamrocks -- the plant didn’t, of course, grow natively in the cities where they landed, like Boston, New York or San Francisco. So, they made do by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by simply wearing the color green and making paper shamrocks.
That being said, it’s suggested that more Trifolium repens clovers grow in Ireland than anywhere else in the world, which is where we get the phrase “the luck of the Irish” from.
Of course, now we look at any clover and call it a shamrock, and get all hot and bothered when we find one with four leaves instead of three. Luck only has so much power as you give it, so pick those clovers, friends!
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