What is a four leaf clover?

Four-leaf clovers are associated with good luck.

A four-leaf clover is an aberration of Trifolium repens, typically three-leaf, or “white clover”. A perennial member of the pea family, it is a dark green vine with white flowers. Also known as the shamrock, it is the official state symbol of Ireland, possessing many religious and legendary associations, including providing good luck. Although the four-leaf mutation is considered relatively rare, the species as a whole is very common and has agricultural, culinary, and medicinal uses. People often confuse it with other varieties of clover.

Religious and Spiritual Associations

Horseshoes and four-leaf clovers are considered good luck charms.

The three leaves of Trifolium repens became associated with the Christian Trinity: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This association is largely linked to Maewyn Succat, better known as St. Patrick, who are said to have used the species to explain the gospel to people in Ireland. Some say that an extra leaf represents God’s grace. A less dogmatic interpretation applied to the four-leaf clover is that one leaf represents faith, another hope, the third love and the last luck.

Associated Myths

Flag of Ireland, associated with four-leaf clovers.

Many myths are related to four-leaf clovers, by far the most enduring of which is that they bring good luck to bearers. This is actually an adaptation of the Christian story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, being expelled from the Garden of Eden. According to legend, Eve brought the plant from Paradise and, as a remnant of that perfect land, was able to bring good fortune. The line between myth and religion with the four-leaf clover, therefore, is somewhat blurred.

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White clover normally has three leaves.

In the Middle Ages, people also thought that this allowed a person to see fairies and elves, and children often looked for one in the fields to see the magical kingdom. Plants are also said to make a person rich, grow only where the mare has given birth, protect against witchcraft, and even help women determine who their future husbands will be.


One white clover breeder, Yoke and Zoom, claims that only about one in 10,000 plants will naturally mutate to produce four leaves. They believe that environmental stress causes the mutation and that a plant that mutates regularly is even rarer. Through cloning, hydroponics and other methods, however, the company claims to have increased production from four Trifolium repens leaves to one in 41 plants.


White clover grows to about 4 – 6 inches (10.2 – 15.2 centimeters) tall and can spread up to 3 feet (0.9 meters). The stems branch from the base and the slightly notched leaves are usually 0.4 – 0.8 inches (1 – 2 cm) in diameter. The flowers, which are typically 5 to 9 millimeters (0.19 to 0.35 inches), usually appear on taller stems and are positioned on rounded flower tips, which measure 15 to 20 mm (0.59 to 0. 78 inches) wide.

Plants sometimes confused with white clover

Many types of clover only have four leaves, so it is necessary to differentiate between these plants and the four-leaf mutant versions of Trifolium repens. Pepperwort, also called Water Clover, is an example. Its leaves are slightly more rounded and have a lighter shade of green. Oxalis has narrow leaves at the base with a reddish stellar center. Three other species, similar clover, buffalo clover, and running buffalo clover, also look similar, but are usually taller plants, and the latter type does not have white spots on the leaves.

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where it grows

This plant is native to Europe, as well as West Asia and North Africa, but it has been introduced to many other regions. It grows best in regions where temperatures are at least 68 – 77°F (20 – 25°C), and although it is winter-hardy, it has a low tolerance for drought. The plants thrive in a variety of soil, but they prefer moist clays.


Most commonly, people use these plants in pastures, letting livestock graze on it. Another common use is for ground cover and soil retention. Many people see it as a weed and don’t like that the flowers attract bees, but individuals still use it in lawns because of its ability to tolerate trampling and fix nitrogen to the soil.

Less commonly, white clover is used for eating. All parts are consumable, and people have used it in salads, as garnishes, and in soups, teas and similar dishes. Usually, individuals who eat it cook it for a few minutes first, because this makes the plant easier to digest. Sometimes, the dried flowers are ground and made into flour.

Traditionally, this plant species also has medicinal properties. Individuals have used it for common ailments such as coughs, colds and fevers, and it is also used as a blood and wound cleanser. Occasionally, people include it in ointments for gout treatment, and it has also been made into eyewash.

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