Shamrock plants symbolize the luck o' the Irish

Statistics show that you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding a four-leaf clover.

Shamrock plant 2023.jpg
A purple shamrock plant is showing all its glory this time of year.
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun

John Zvirovski.jpg
John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Oh, the luck o’ the Irish! Every year on March 17 comes St. Patrick’s Day. It is a time we locally associate with the Runnin O' the Green, which will be held on March 18.  It is a great event to raise money for various charities.  

St. Patrick’s Day is associated with Irish traditions, the color green and nasty little leprechauns that guard the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. OK, so if you ever see the horror show of "Leprechaun," you surely never want to meet one. The other item we typically associate with the holiday is the four-leaf clover. In the land of the Irish, these were known as shamrock plants, but true shamrock plants only have three leaves and come from the white clover family.

I remember, as many of us do, searching through a clover patch as a child looking for that "lucky" four-leaf clover. We would spend hours a day looking for these little lucky charms. Although they are difficult to find, when you do find one, you seem to treasure it by pressing it in the pages of a book to show all your friends. Something about its rarity seems to grab our attention regardless of age. Statistics show that you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding one.

But what is it about this anomaly that seems to grab our attention and intrigue us into obtaining one? Maybe it is the difficulty in finding one, maybe there is actually something to the folklore of the promise of luck, or maybe it has something to do with its Christian history which St. Patrick himself was trying to spread. It may be one or it may be all of the reasons we seem to have a connection with this symbol.


It is said that St. Patrick used this leaf to symbolize the holy trinity. The three leaflets represented the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each entity being a part of the other all on the same stem. He tried to spread his word through Ireland with this symbol of information. When finding a four-leafed clover today, the first leaflet represents hope, the second represents faith, the third represents love, and the fourth one represents luck.

You can obtain a growing shamrock plant in the local nurseries during this holiday to grow as your own. These plants are known as Oxalis regnelli and Oxalis triangularius. The first one comes in the common green color with large leaves and white flowers and the second one comes in a purple color with pink flowers. Both of them can be grown as a houseplant in bright diffuse light and enjoy well-drained soil. They do not like to become overwatered; they tend to yellow and wilt away due to root rot. They are a fun plant to grow for adults and children alike and will create enjoyment with their unique look and delicate flowers. If they are set out in the summertime, they prefer a bright but shady location to obtain their healthiest look.

Unlike regular clover plants that grow through spreading root systems invading our lush lawns, this variety actually grows from small bulbs. These bulbs, like others, enjoy a rest period from time to time. When the plant begins to die back with no new growth, cease watering the plant and place it in a dark environment for two to three months to allow it to rest. After that time period, you can place it back into a bright location and begin lightly watering it again until new growth begins to appear.

There are a few hardy Oxalis varieties that are nice for our area that will return from year to year. These are known as Oxalis montana or Woodsorrels. They are available with green leaves along with white flowers or burgundy leaves with yellow flowers. Their leaves are smaller than the larger bulb-grown varieties, but they still exhibit the same delicate features on an annual basis for gardening enjoyment.


The fascination of four-leaf clover represents itself in numerous poems, stories, songs and folklore. I know you are already humming a tune associated with this Irish symbol. It is fun, catchy and enjoyable even if you have no Irish heritage in your bloodline.

In a time in history where we only hear events of sadness, tragedy and doom, it is nice to know that we still have the hope, faith, love and luck to make a change in our world. After all, without these elements for a positive vision of the future, we would no longer try new and exciting things. It is apparent in everything that we do in our lives today, especially in the gardening world. How do I know this vision continues to be used? It is evident in the act of planting a tree that I know I will never see its true maturity before I pass on, but I plant it anyways.

Hopefully, you were able to add a little history into your life by obtaining a shamrock plant for yourself or a friend this past week for St. Patrick's Day. If it doesn’t bring luck, it is still sure to bring enjoyment!

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