ONE PLANT THAT emerges in the spring has an ancient heritage and folklore that totally surrounds it. What do I refer to? Why, the simple clover, of course! Most of us today probably look at a patch of clover and think of it as a weed we must kill. STOP and think of the history and importance of this very green plant. In 1681, an English traveler to Ireland, Thomas Dineley, wrote: “The 17th day of March yeerly is St. Patricks….ye Irish of all stations…superstitiously wear shamroges, 3 leav’d grass, which they likewise eat (they say) to cause a sweet breath.”
In 1762, Caleb Threlkeld, a botantist also references March 17th as St. Patrick’s Day and the “Three Leafed Grass”. He goes on in his work to cite how St. Patrick used this “Seamar-oge” to teach the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. The tradition of wearing and eating the shamrock lives on today in Ireland and many other places. Along with the wearing of the green, many toasts with some sort of alcoholic concoction are required to toast the man who brought this plant to prominence!
Okay, so I started out talking about clover and then went into the history of the shamrock. Did you know they are actually the same plant? That’s correct. The shamrock is really a sprig of clover. Clover is of the genus Trifolium—part of the pea family Fabacae. Most of the species are found in the Northern Hemisphere and many are evergreen. The flowers are spiky and can be red, purple, white or yellow. White clover is the most widely cultivated and makes great feed for livestock. Clover is also one of the main nectar sources for honeybees, so you know every beekeeper would love to see you leave the clover patch in your yard grow and flourish. Who doesn’t remember making chains of clover flowers as a child? With our beautiful manicured lawns, I hate to say this may be a thing of the past.
Back to the clover-shamrock dilemma— there is one other plant that is commonly sold in stores and called a shamrock. This plant is totally in another genus. It looks like a shamrock or clover, but has a very different bloom. No spikes here, the little flowers will usually have 5 petals. This plant is a false shamrock from the oxalis genus. They are also known as wood sorrels and have an acidic taste. They do however make a great window houseplant and if sun shines brightly in their window, they will produce blooms again and again.
A fun activity for this 2017 March might be to celebrate the clover not just as the symbol of March 17th, but as a common everyday plant that has touched lots of our history. Go online and google shamrock as an emblem. I think you will be amazed at the many ways and nationalities that have used this simple plant as their emblem. Next, take a drive and find your own patch of clover where you can look for the mythical 4 leafed lucky one or recreate that sensational clover halo from your youth!! After all, Spring is upon us and who doesn’t look young again when crowned with clover!!!
Email your gardening questions and comments to Lisa at email@example.com.