Apartment Living BlogApartment Living › Difference Between a Shamrock and a Four Leaf Clover

They say everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and there are lots of ways we can show our affection for the Emerald Isle every March the 17th. We can dress all in green, enjoy a pint of Guinness or throw a playlist of traditional Irish folk songs onto our iPhones. All these are acceptable ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day … so long as none of them include a four-leaf clover. We know what you’re thinking! But four-leaf clovers are the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day! Well, we’re sorry to be the ones to tell you, but four-leaf clovers are about as authentically Irish as a bowl of Lucky Charms. Don’t feel bad about your mistake, though; it’s a misconception that people have been embracing for centuries.

When most people think of the Irish four-leaf clover, they’re actually thinking about the shamrock. This three-leaf plant became deeply tied to the Irish people when in the 5th century St. Patrick used it to teach them about Christianity. He presented the three-leaf sprig of clover as a symbol for the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three entities all exist as one person, in the same way the three leaves exist in one plant. The metaphor took hold, and over time, the shamrock became the national symbol of Ireland.

Obviously, if the three leaves of the shamrock are what make the plant so important to Irish heritage, then a four-leaf clover just doesn’t add up. A four-leaf clover refers to an aberration of a three-leaf white clover plant (which is actually a deep shade of green). The extra leaf is extremely rare, appearing only once in every 10,000 plants, so finding one has come to be considered extremely lucky.

Over the centuries as these traditions migrated overseas, the two plants began to get confused. Although there’s no exact account of how or why this happened, it may be tied to the California Gold Rush of the late 19th century. A large number of the most successful miners during that time period were Irish, which eventually led to the coining of the phrase, “the luck of the Irish.” Although the saying does have some negative connotations — implying that the Irish obtained their fortunes due to dumb luck more than hard work — it stuck, and soon being Irish and being lucky became forever intertwined. With the shamrock and the four-leaf clover already looking so similar, it’s not hard to see why American minds started confusing them and applied the lucky one (the clover) to the people they already thought of as lucky.

But now that you know the difference, you have no excuse for making the same mistake. A lot of Irish people will take offense to you mixing up the two, so if you really want to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll pack away anything with four leaves and break out the shamrocks!

To infuse your St. Patty’s Day with even more shamrock-inspired fun, check out these creative DIY projects: a St. Patrick’s Day wreath and a shamrock bunting.

Image Sources: Feature Cover
  • Monthly Rental Calculator

    How much should I spend on rent? Don't worry, we've got you covered! This rental calculator will help you determine how much rent you can afford based on your annual income.


    Never miss a tip, deal or contest.


About :

Amber is the Social Media & Content Manager for For Rent Media Solutions™ and has been with the company since April 2007. In her role, Amber helps execute and optimize a social media strategic plan across multiple channels, as well as manages the company's social media product. This includes blogs, social networks, video sharing sites, and other conversational media. She spends a great deal of time building relationships with consumers, social media influencers, and bloggers to generate awareness of For Rent Media Solutions brand. In her free time, Amber loves running, #hashtags, and DIY projects.



  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. 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.


  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. 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.



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

  5. 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!

    • 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. 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.
  8. Jack Mehov says:
    Shamrock – The Irish Symbol (3 leaves)
    Clover – A similar looking plant but not Shamrock
    4 Leaf clover – You’re lucky if you find one
  9. RedwoodSinger says:
    Interestingly enough, they’re the same plant. Shamrock is just the Irish name for clover.

Speak Your Mind


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This