By the luck of the Irish, our second plant profile for the month of March is Clover. We couldn’t resist ourselves. (Read our previous profiles for Daffodils, Roses, and Hellebores). When you think of clover, do you visualize little Irish leprechauns, pots of gold, and green beer? Or, do you think about St. Patrick and the historical significance of clover to Ireland? Read on to learn about more in this Clover plant profile.
Why We’re Featuring a Clover Plant Profile for March
As you know, green beer and such are Americanized additions to centuries-old Irish traditions. Clover celebrates its roots in the Northern Hemisphere. With over 300 known species, most clover has the iconic triple leaf arrangement, but some clover can have more than three leaves. So, how exactly did this plant become a national symbol for a whole country?
Earlier this week, we profiled a flower synonymous with the start of the spring season, the Divine Daffodil. You can read all about that post and learn about the various colors, varieties, and even pet-safety tips regarding that plant. Now, on to the clover. It seemed like a lucky bet to profile clover in addition to daffodils, especially due to their shape, color, and historical significance to the month of March.
What exactly is a clover? A plant? A weed? What do their flowers look like?
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Clover Plant Profile: Brief History
Three-leaf clovers often called shamrocks, are symbolic to the Irish for several reasons, including Druid mysticism; Saint Patrick; and an Irish Revolution in the 19th Century. Unfortunately, what most people think of as “tradition” on St. Patrick’s Day has nothing to do with the roots of the day. Saint Patrick is believed to have died on March 17th, in the year 461, so that is a connection. However, Saint Patrick was not even Irish; he was English. Furthermore, there is nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks as they are found throughout Europe. Holiday irony at its best.
To be clear, we should mention that there are two specific species of clover general accepted as true shamrocks: Trifolium dubium (lesser clover) or Trifolium repens (white clover). For the purposes of this post, all three-leaf clover will often be referred to as a shamrock.
First, we travel back to medieval history to the time of the Celtic priests, also called Druids. In brief, they believed that carrying a shamrock would help them see evil spirits coming so they could escape to safety. According to legend, the shamrock was a sacred plant to the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad, and three was a mystical number in the Celtic religion.
Next, our brief history continues with Saint Patrick, a Christian priest and patron saint of Ireland. Ever heard of him? To Saint Patrick, the clover was regarded with high esteem simply due to its appearance. Its three-leaf structure, also called trifoliate, helped symbolize the Holy Trinity in Christianity. As Irish legend states, Saint Patrick used a shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Pagan Irish in order to convert them to Christianity in the 5th Century A.D. Later, Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461.
Finally, centuries after the legend of Saint Patrick, the Shamrock took on meaning as an emblem in the political struggle of the Irish people. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the shamrock gained popular acceptance as people began to wear it as a symbol of unity and a national emblem for Ireland.
As you can see, shamrocks are kind of a big deal for numerous reasons. Did you know that clovers can also be found with four leaves? These are truly rare and thus considered “lucky charms” by the Irish. Sometimes clovers can even be found with five, six, or more leaves! It’s often said that Ireland is home to more four-leaf clovers than any other place, giving meaning to the phrase “the luck of the Irish.”
Now that you are caught up on the history, let’s move on to the common characteristics of the clover.
“All About Clover” Plant Profile
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|Common/Trade Name||Clover, White Clover, White Dutch Clover|
|Botanical/Scientific Name||Trifolium repens|
|Types||This species has a few cultivars, some with purple or dark-green margins. Subspecies "minus" is one of the shamrocks.|
|Zones||Sunset= Zones 2 - 24.|
USDA= Zones 4 - 8.
|General Information||Can find mixed in with lawn grass as a perennial weed, all Clovers fix nitrogen from the air and store in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria near their roots.|
|Native Environment||Native to Europe and Central Asia.|
|Water Needs||Regular water.|
|Mature Height/Width||Most grow to about 4-inches high, but naturalized in lawns can get to 8 to 12-inches high, especially with lots of water and fertilizer.|
|Bloom Time||Depends on species. Can bloom for two weeks or for a whole season.|
|Flower Colors||White, purple, pink.|
|Number of Varieties||300 species ranging from annuals, biennials, and perennials.|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun or light shade.|
|Fertilize?||Not many need fertilizer.|
|Plant Spacing||Depends on species.|
|Suggested Companion Plant/s||Goes well with ray-flowers (daisy-like) as a good contrast. Border and edging plantings or in clumps.|
|Maintenance Level||Only really need to worry about spreading into other unwanted areas.|
|Pest Susceptibility||None to be really concerned with.|
|Poisonous to Pets?||No, unless small animals consume very large quantities.|
|Edible for Humans?||Only if consumed in VERY large quantities.|
|Fun (or historical) Facts||- Red Clover is Vermont's state flower. |
- Good for animal feed and a cover crop.
- Flowers are favored by bees and can be used for honey production.
Crocosmia Plant Profile: Product Recommendations
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Clover Plant Profile: Conclusion
Next time you think about the three-leaf clover, remember the historical significance this small, trifoliate plant has brought to the nation of Ireland. Whether used to ward off evil spirits, to convert people to Christianity, or as a symbol of national unity, this plant has a rich, diverse history that extends beyond just its shape or color. Next year on St. Patrick’s Day, wear your shamrock with pride and in solidarity if you will. Give a toast to the great people of Ireland with your pint of green beer and remember the struggles of those that came before you.
Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading and we hope we inspired you or educated you in some way. For information about mulching for this spring season, listen to our podcasts or check out either of our previous posts about how to mulch anytime of year or 7 best reasons mulching your garden is beneficial. Make sure to watch for our next post where we will offer suggestions and advice on getting your garden ready for Spring with our list of the top 5 spring priorities for your garden.
Also, If you’re interested in learning about more plants, check out some of our other monthly plant profiles below:
- The Fantastic Fuchsia
- The Curious Calla Lily: April Plant Profile
- A Rose By Any Other Name: February Plant Profile
- The Divine Daffodil: March Plant Profile
Let us know if you have any questions or comments anytime, we would love to help.
See you in the garden!
~ Sean and Allison