Flower Facts

Four-Leaf Clover Facts for St. Patrick’s Day

Hand holding a four-leaf clover in the field.

If you’ve thought you could benefit from a lucky charm, you’ve probably sought out a four-leaf clover. While most everyone knows these plants are symbols of luck, not everyone knows all the details about why these plants are so special.

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, it’s a great time to learn about the history of four-leaf clovers, as well as how you can find one for yourself. We promise you that searching through a field of clover is easier than finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

What is a Four-Leaf Clover?

If you think it’s just a clover with four leaves, you’re partially right. But this doesn’t tell the whole story.

True four-leaf clovers are the rare four-leaf form of the white clover (Trifolium repens). This little clover normally has three leaves, but sometimes genetic mutations and the right environmental conditions combine to form four-leaf clovers.

Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen white clover. This plant has small leaves and little white flowers, and it’s often planted in lawns or as a ground cover. There are other types of three-leaf clovers, such as red clover and crimson clover, but only the four-leaf version of white clover is lucky.

Before you go claiming any plant which resembles a four-leaf clover is lucky, beware there are lots of plant imposters. Some plants that look like four-leaf clovers include various species of Oxalis as well as pepperwort and water clover.

Another fun fact? While clovers are associated with St. Patrick’s Day, they aren’t one of the March birthday flowers.

Origin of the Four-Leaf Clover

Now that you know what a true four-leaf clover is, let’s dive into how these plants developed their current symbolism.

It all started with the Druids, aka Celtic priests. Druids often carried three-leaf clovers with them to help them view evil spirits and keep them away. They began carrying four-leaf clovers for protection and good luck. Druids believed the leaves of these rare clovers represented faith, hope, luck, and love. If you’re looking to learn more about Druids, check out the less known spring holidays of Beltane and the Vernal Equinox.

While Druids valued four-leaf clovers long before Englishman Sir John Melton, he was the first person to write about the luck of four-leaf clovers. “If a man walking in the fields finds any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing,” he wrote in 1620.

As time went on, other people tied symbolism to four-leaf clovers. Just like kids today, children in the Middle Ages thought these plants brought good luck. They searched high low to find four-leaf clovers since they believed they would give them the power to see fairies.

How to Find a Four-Leaf Clover

If you’re hoping to find a four-leaf clover of your own, we have some tips that may help.

  1. Know the facts. While four-leaf clovers are rare, you have better chances of finding one than winning the PowerBall. About one out of every 10,001 clovers has four leaves!
  2. Scan quickly. We know clovers are cute. But if you’re hoping to find one of the lucky ones, don’t spend a special moment with each one. Rather, quickly scan a clover field until your eyes notice the outlier.
  3. More is merrier. Since four-leaf clovers are linked to genetic mutations, if you find one lucky clover, you’re likely to find more in the same area.
  4. Head somewhere hot. While scientists don’t understand the exact causes of an extra leaf, they do know that a hot environment increases the odds of plants developing one.

FAQ

Why is a four-leaf clover considered lucky?

The four-leaf clover is considered lucky thanks to Celtic priests called Druids. These people carried the clovers with them to help keep away evil spirits. The lucky nature of the four-leaf clover has remained over time.

What’s the difference between four-leaf and shamrock?

While both four-leaf clovers and shamrocks are associated with the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day, they are not the same thing. Shamrocks are the common three-leaf clovers, not the four-leaf variety.
While four-leaf clovers are considered lucky, shamrocks also provide special symbolism. According to the Irish, St. Patrick used the shamrock to show the three coexisting forms of God, aka the holy trinity.

Why are four-leaf clovers associated with St. Patrick’s Day?

The more common three-leaf clover, the shamrock, has long been used in Ireland as a symbol of the holy trinity. Since St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of the Irish Bishop St. Patrick, it’s no surprise the shamrock is tied to this holiday. Some time in history, people began associating four-leaf clovers with St. Patrick’s Day, even though the shamrock is more closely tied to this Irish holiday.

How rare is a four-leaf clover?

While the odds of finding a four-leaf clover may seem like one in a million, these lucky clovers aren’t quite that rare. For every 10,000 three-leaf clovers, there is one four-leaf clover.

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