I remember searching for hours, more than once. Four-leaf clovers were tantalising: they dangled the possibility that I, an inconsequential child, could root around in any old field for bit, and discover a powerful talisman of fortune.
Sometimes I was successful. There are about 5,000 three-leaf clovers for every four-leaf clover, so it’s not impossible. And though I don’t recall a noticeable uptick in my luck, it did feel magical.
You can be extra-lucky, by the way. Many-leafed clovers are possible, and increasingly rare as the number goes up; six- and possibly seven-leaf clovers are found in nature.
There are some 300 species in the pea family Fabaceae, which we generally refer to as clovers. Trifolium repens, white clover, and T. pratense, red clover, are the most common, because they are cultivated widely as fodder plants, and used to ‘fix’ nitrogen into soil. If you studied the same GCSE history syllabus as me, you may remember Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend, the father of crop rotation, who grew wheat, turnips, barley and clover in succession; the clover restored essential nitrogen which the other crops had taken out.
I chose this plant for St. Patrick’s Day, which is on Saturday. Until recently, I assumed the shamrock, the emblem of Ireland, was the same clover I know and love, but it turns out there is considerable debate on this point. Some pick a sprig of our old friend T. repens; others the lesser clover, T. dubium. But various non-clovers – like wood sorrel – have their champions too. Whichever plant you choose, the shamrock is always three-leafed: St. Patrick supposedly used it to teach early Christian worshippers about the Trinity.
Luck, of course, is all but a national brand for Ireland, as this Wikipedia disambiguation page attests. Indeed, the Irish are so lucky that – unlike me and many other eager kids – they don’t need a fourth leaf on their clover. Three is enough.