BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Shamrocks
By Kerry Peetz
Oh, the luck of the Irish! They say there are two kinds of people in the world: the Irish, and those who wish they were. But whatever our Catholic heritage, we all have gotten to experience a little St. Patrick, Emerald Isle magic, shamrocks, and corned beef (thanks to the blessed dispensation) on March 17.
The original shamrock plant may have been Trifolium dubium (yellow clover) or Trifolium repens (white clover). So, the legend goes that St. Patrick used the three clover leaflets to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — to the Irish people in the fourth century. The word “shamrock” derives from the Irish words “seamair óg” or “young clover.” According to Smithsonian Magazine, yellow clover is the species most often sold as a “shamrock” in Ireland. Shamrocks have all been worn by the Irish as a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day, a tradition that dates back to the late 17th century.
Shamrock and four-leaf clover lore are often confused, since both are associated with good luck. As noted, the Irish shamrock has three leaflets. Occasionally, due to a genetic mix-up and possible environmental factors, the white clover plant will produce four leaflets on one stem. Scientists estimate that, for every 10,000 three-leaf clovers, one to two four-leaf clovers appear. The first documented reference to the lucky four-leaf clover is by Sir John Melton in 1620, who wrote, “If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after, find some good thing.”
This time of year, “shamrock” plants are sold in grocery stores, local garden centers and floral shops as a decoration for St. Patrick’s Day. These plants, unrelated to clovers, are actually a type of Oxalis. The clover-shaped leaves come in shades of green, red, or purple, and can fold up at night or on overcast days. The five-petaled flowers, on long stalks, can be white, yellow, pink or red. These plants are native to Africa and the Americas.
Oxalis grows from tubers. All prefer cool conditions in bright light and well-drained soil. Their roots are shallow, and they seem to prefer being pot-bound. Use half of the recommended strength fertilizer, every two to three weeks during flowering. Overwatering can lead to root rot.
In late fall, the foliage will yellow and die, signaling the start of dormancy which can last for one to several months. When this happens, stop watering and fertilizing and store pots in a cool, dark location until new growth begins to show. Dividing can be done by separating tubers and replanting them in new pots. When selecting oxalis plants for a seasonal decoration, choose those with lush, healthy foliage and lots of new flower buds.
All members of the genus Oxalis contain oxalic acid, which gives them a sour taste that helps to protect them from grazing animals. Ingesting large quantities of oxalic acid can be toxic, so be careful with these if pets, who like to eat plants, are present. However, large amounts would have to be consumed to be severely harmful.
Little signs of spring are beginning to emerge — the green grass needles and the birds busily building new nests. Easter is on its way. While the focus is still on the Lenten season, God always shows us signs of hope. It is St. Patrick and his strong faith with dedication to prayer who inspires us all to pray — for a good harvest, the water and rain. Pray for the sunshine too but whatever you do, “Never iron a four-leaf clover, because you don’t want to press your luck.” — Irish Proverb.