The luck of the Irish
For each petal on the shamrock this brings a wish your way — good health, good luck, and happiness for today and every day.
Did you know there is no such thing as a shamrock plant, at least botanically speaking? There are, however, hundreds of varieties of clover. Almost any plant that has three clover shaped leaves and green is often called a shamrock.
Popular belief is that the Trifolium repens is the true shamrock plant, but what you will find in most stores this month is the Oxalis regnellii. Both families of plants have a wide variety of choices, most are green but there are also purple varieties available.
A survey, conducted at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, revealed that when the Irish wear the shamrock, it can be any one of four plants. Three of the plants are clovers, while the fourth is a clover-like plant known as “medick.” All four are in the Pea family;
Lesser trefoil or hop clover (Trifolium dubium), White clover (Trifolium repens), Black medick (Medicago lupulina) and Red clover (Trifolium pratense).
Various members of the Wood Sorrel family (such as Oxalis regnellii) are also sold as shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. These clover look-alikes are more easily cultivated as houseplants than is real clover. The wood sorrels are not even related to the four plants listed above. One thing the wood sorrels, Oxalis and Trifoliums, have in common is the trifoliate leaf structure, a compound leaf with three leaflets.
The common Oxalis plant is easy to care for and should last a while if taken care of properly. The plant can last a long time indoors and can eventually be moved outdoors after the weather warms up. The plant is suited for zone 8 and 9, so here in central Ohio it can remain outdoors during the summer but would need to be brought inside for the winter. The plant spreads by rhizomes that look like small noodles. Often times the plant will appear to be dying when it actually is taking a rest. The Oxalis plant needs some dormancy to rejuvenate and start growing again. The leaves open and close depending on the light. A bright day will have all the leaves open, and a cloudy day will keep them closed. If you have the plant in a dark room and carry it out into the light, you can watch the leaves open.
So how is the shamrock associated with St. Patrick’s day? March 17 commemorates St. Patrick, most commonly recognized as the patron saints of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. St. Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day. The term shamrock is derived from the old Gaelic word “seamrog,” which means “little clover.”
The story goes that your best luck will happen if you find a four leaf clover in the clover patch. The next time you are in a field of clover, look down, stare at the clover and a four leaf clover may just show itself for your best luck ever.
Since the 18th century, the shamrock has been used as a symbol of Ireland. The shamrock is used in Irish pubs around the world as the sign of a warm welcoming establishment.
Erin go braugh — happy early St. Patrick’s Day!
Upcoming garden workshop
Join the Delaware County Master Gardeners and the Grow and Share Community Garden Committee, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, for an instructional program on how to start your vegetable garden. Connie Zuga and Norma Lind will walk you through, step by step, on how to start seeds at home. The program will be held in the community room of the new YMCA at 1121 S. Houk Road, Delaware. This class is part of the Community Garden program series scheduled for the third Thursday of every month. Programs are free of charge and open to the public. For questions, call Extension office at 740–833-2030.
Susan Liechty is a Delaware County OSU Extension Master Gardener.