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What is a Shamrock and What Does It Have To Do With St. Patrick’s Day?

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What is a Shamrock and What Does It Have To Do With St. Patrick’s Day?

What is a shamrock? It’s is the most iconic symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, but do you really know about this tiny three-leaved plant, and why is it associated with the holiday?

Legend and tradition states that the shamrock was a vital part of St. Patrick’s teachings. He used its three rounded leaves growing on a single stem as a natural symbol simplify the concept of the Trinity. It is also said that the deep green color of the shamrock, which became Ireland’s emblem, cancels out the superstition that it is bad luck to wear green.

What is a Shamrock?

What plant St. Patrick chose as the shamrock has been debated for some time. There are several strong candidates among the members of the pea family. White clovers are a natural choice for the original shamrock. These ground-hugging plants are native to Europe and naturalized in this country. They grow in pastureland, to the delight of dairy herds, and in lawns, to the dismay of gardeners.

A rose-flowered variety of white clover (trifolium repens minus) is listed in some seed catalogs as the “true Irish shamrock.” Yet, there are those who opt for hop or yellow clover (T. procumbens.)

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There are few who claim another member of the pea family as the real shamrock. Some taxonomists cross family lines and choose a wood sorrel, which is not even a legume.

The literal translation of shamrock is “seamrog” and means “summer plant.” It is in the spring and summer when shamrocks grow lush in the Irish fields.

Don’t confuse shamrocks with four-leaf clovers!

The two are often confused. But shamrocks have 3 leaves. Four-leaf clovers are a symbol of good luck.

Shamrock Legends

There is more to the legend surrounding the shamrock. The trefoil in Arabic is called shamrakh. It was held sacred in Iran as an emblem of the Persian Triads. And in his Natural History, Pliny claims that serpents are never found where trefoil grows, and that the plant prevails against the strings of snakes and scorpions.

Care for Shamrocks

Small two-and-one-half-inch pots of shamrock go on sale at city florists and plant shops as soon as March 17 arrives. These are plants of Trifoliym repens minus. It is suggested that potted shamrocks be kept in a well-lighted but cool place. The seeds are planted thickly in the pots so the clover foliage is dense. Since leaves may rot if kept too wet, setting them in a saucer of water until moisture seeps to the top of the soil should water the plants. Set aside to drain and do not water again until the soil dries out.

Want to grow your own Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day? Learn how!

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2 comments

1 Skip Press { 03.14.18 at 4:44 pm }

“strings of snakes and scorpions” ? Scary!

2 Rose Menefee { 03.17.12 at 12:51 pm }

Fun stuff

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