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.