Difference between a Shamrock and a Four Leaf Clover

| March 16, 2009 | 8 Comments

 While ordering a cake the other day we were faced with a dilemma.  The cake specialist asked if we wanted a four leaf clover or a shamrock on our St. Patrick’s Day themed cake. Not understanding, we asked what the difference was. The specialist responded that the shamrock is the Irish symbol and the four leaf clover is the American version. She mentioned that in her experience some Irish people have gotten offended if the four leaf clover is used improperly. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with the differences between the two (besides the obvious additional leaf), here is an explanation.

The shamrock is a three-leaved clover; the plant was used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. It has subsequently become a national symbol of Ireland. The word comes from seamróg, the Irish name for the plant.

A four leaf clover refers to an aberration of a three leaf clover plant, “white clover.” The white clover is a deep green flowering vine with white blossoms. It is the original shamrock plant of Ireland and the unofficial state symbol. The shamrock already has powerful associations, and its occasional production of an extra leaf makes the rare four leaf clover especially lucky.

For more ideas about St. Patrick’s Day parties and crafts, please visit our Holidays section.

Category: Holidays

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  1. Frank J Ward says:

    Your explanation of the difference between the shamrock and clover is wrong and misleading. First, while the four leaf clover is a symbol of good luck for Americans, it has absolutely nothing to do with the shamrock. It is not the American version of the shamrock to be used on St Patricks logos. Anyone who uses the four leaf clover as a substitute is ignorant.
    Also you state ” it is the original shamrock plant of Ireland” This absolutely false. A shamrock has no connection with the four leaf clover. It is a totally different plant. It is especially insulting to people of Irish heritage to have ignorant people substituting a “lucky” symbol for a meaningful cultural, nationalistic and religious symbol. Please correct your message. Thanks, Frank Ward

  2. Gillian Luce Gillian Luce says:

    Mr. Ward,

    First off, we’d like to thank you for your comment and your passion for the topic at hand. The statement about the four leaf clover being the ‘American version’ was taken from the clerk at the local grocery store. That statement illustrates the confusion between the shamrock and the four leaf clover, which is why we chose to write the blog in the first place. Second, the source of our information came from several reputable online sites such as Wikipedia.com and Webster’s Online Dictionary. We’d also like to state that our comment regarding “it is the original shamrock plant of Ireland” is referring to the ‘white clover’ (the shamrock or Trifolium repens) not the four leaf clover.

    Thank you again for posting on this blog.

    Sincerely,
    ForRent.com

  3. Wanda Mundy says:

    Dear Ms. Luce . . .

    I am afraid I would have to agree with Mr. Ward. The two plants are completely different, an unrelated. Clovers – whether four-leaved, white or purle – while their leaves may have a similar shape to shamrocks – have a globular flower cluster that is comprised of many pipette-shaped florettes that stick out from the central globe much like the seed-head of a dandelion. The bottoms of those pipettes are filled with a form of liquid sugar – which makes them a great favourite with bees.

    The flowers of true Irish shamrocks, on the other hand, are a 3- or 4-lobed open and FLAT – and usually white – flower that is a somewhat larger version of what we call Mayflowers in North America.

    The two plants’ leaves bear only a superficial similarity – but are in no way even related to each other. The are two completely different plants.

    Note: Websters and Wikipedia are both American – and neither are botannical authorities on the flora of other countries.

    Thank You,

    Wanda Mundy

    PS – Your “security” scramble is out-of-order. I tried more than 10 times to send this reply – and kept getting the message that the anti-spam word was incorrect. Well – my eyesight is 20/20 – and there isn’t much that can be done to mess up anti-spam codes (the last one being FAFY) – so you might want to check that.

  4. Gillian Luce Gillian Luce says:

    Ms Mundy,

    First off, I’d like to thank you for commenting on our blog. Unfortunately I think the purpose for this post was misinterpreted. Our intention for writing this blog was to define how it is that the four leaf clover and the shamrock get confused regarding St. Patrick’s Day. They are often mistaken for one another. For example, my director showed me just yesterday that we have ‘shamrock gold coins’ (labeled that way) that we could have used for our St. Patrick’s Day party. However, displayed (quite visibly) is a four leaf clover, not a shamrock. It was not our intent to state that the reasons mentioned were the only differences between the two plants especially in a botanical reference.

    I would like to thank you for sharing your detailed knowledge regarding these two plants and further educating us about the differences between the four leaf clover and the shamrock.

    Sincerely,

    ForRent.com

    PS-We will look into the security settings. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

  5. Irish says:

    Frank, you say: “It is especially insulting to people of Irish heritage to have ignorant people substituting a “lucky” symbol for a meaningful cultural, nationalistic and religious symbol.”

    Sort of like a Brit showing a picture of a chicken with the American flag and calling it our national symbol, because it is after all a bird!

    • Mac says:

      Exactly that, but no worse than St. Paddy’s becoming a day of obnoxiously drunken tools in goofy, glittered green leprechaun hats pelting one another eith confetti every year. Mistaking similar plants? Not so bad.

  6. Phaedrus says:

    Amen to the Irish commenters.

    The article was well intentioned but one part is misleading as it implies about the four leaf shamrock is the original shamrock.

  7. David Neeson says:

    Well I am Irish and I am confused! I know about the four leaf Clover and it being lucky and I also know about the Shamrock and it’s symbolism. The thing is on St Patricks day you see ‘Irish’ people wearing all sorts of things with mostly 4 leaf clovers on and NOT Shamrocks!! That is what confuses me.

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