St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until next Tuesday, but there will be plenty of parties and pub crawls this weekend, so I thought it was fair game for a topic this week.
Like a lot of “holidays,” St. Patrick’s Day has evolved well beyond its origins and become an excuse for revelry and celebration. I’m not complaining, mind you, it’s just an observation.
One fairly lowly element of this tradition, though, is the Irish Shamrock. Like a lot of things, there is some debate about what a “real” shamrock even is. And that’s between the botanists.
Various English “scientists” had opinions about what Irish clover was in the 1700s and early 1800s — and were generally wrong. I can’t think of any other situations where outsiders had an opinion based on an incomplete understanding and got it wrong. Can you?
Anyway, for the last 100 years or so, based on two surveys of actual Irish gardeners, the Shamrock is the Trifolium dubium or the Lesser clover. That won about 50% of the vote.
The second most popular plant for the title of Shamrock was Trifolium repens or the White clover. The plant won about 35% of the votes. The remaining 15% was split between a couple other plants.
You may be asking yourself, what does the Shamrock have to do with St. Patrick’s Day, anyway? Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagans when he came to convert them to Christianity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate, but make up one sprig together. Pretty ingenious, really.
A common theme of St. Patrick’s Day is “ the luck of the Irish.” Considering some of the things the Irish have gone through in the last couple hundred years, I’m not sure that even makes sense, but a lot of that falls to the idea (unrelated to the Shamrock) of finding a four-leaf clover.
Turns out, at least for the second most favorite type of shamrock, the White Clover, a four-leafed specimen, shows up on about one in 10,000 sprigs. Rare, but not astronomical.
Truthfully, I don’t know that I’ve ever found one. Take that as you will.
So, when you’re out drinking cheap green beer or wearing your “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-shirt, remember, there’s more to the story. And it might be on the ground at your feet.