The 4-leaf clover is a mutant form of Trifolium repens or white clover. Scientists aren't quite sure why it happens, whether through genetics, or the environment, or chemicals, but it does. One 'clover' is actually one leaf of the clover plant, which has an underground stem. Each 'leaf' on the clover plant is actually one leaflet. A white clover leaf should only have 3 leaflets (hence the name 'trifolium') but many have been found to have 4 or even more (5, 6, 7 ... 18). Trifolium repens bears a white inflorescence and more than one story.
A friend is like a four-leaf clover: hard to find, but lucky to have.
As I'm sure you know, the 4-leaf clover is thought to bring good luck to the finder, especially one who's not searching. St. Patrick is said to have used the three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. The fourth leaf of the 4-leaf clover is thought to represent God's grace. Alternately, the 4 leaves are often conceived as representing faith, hope, love, and luck.
Four-leaf clovers are not as rare as you might think. Statistically speaking, about 1 in every 10,000 clovers has 4 leaves (although some plants/ areas are more prone to them than others). 77-year-old Edward Martin of Alaska holds the record of 160,000 4-leaf clovers found. I still wonder at my friend Katrina's four. Some companies have managed to grow 4-leaf clovers to sell or leave for strangers to find.
I know a place where the sun is like gold,
And the cherry blossoms burst with snow,
And down underneath is the loveliest nook,
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith,
And one is for love, you know,
And God put another in for luck, -
If you search, you will find where they grow.
But you must have hope, and you must have faith,
You must love and be strong - and so,
If you work, if you wait, you will find the place
Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
Eve is said to have carried a 4-leaf clover with her as she left the garden. In the Middle Ages, 4-leaf clovers were not only thought to be good luck, they were believed to grant the viewer the ability to see plant sprites and fairies. If a lady hangs one on her door, the next man in will be her husband. Talk about risk. Playwright Dwayne Yancey has written a 5-minute play called The Four-Leaf Clover in which a young couple on a picnic come across a 4-leaf clover and discover how different they see the world.
Mutant clovers have captured so many imaginations and are such an ingrained part of so many people's consciousness. They're not normal (although many people argue that mutations are a healthy thing for a population to have because they encourage variation) but they are beautiful.
"If one find a four-leaf clover"
(She said, sitting on the grass),
"He can wish whate'er he likes to, --
And that wish shall come to pass."
"Do you say so?" Then down kneeling
'Mong the sorrel and cropt grass,
Looked I for a four-leaf clover
And my wish to come to pass.
Long I searched among the sorrel,
Close beside me she searched too;
Now and then some commonplaces
Broke the silence, -- but it grew.
For my heart was full of yearning,
And my mouth of eager words,
But I dared not give them utterance, --
So I hearkened to the birds;
And kept looking, looking, looking,
While beside me she looked too, --
Two bent figures in the twilight,
Green hills paling into blue.
"Ha! I have one!" "Yes, and wished for?" --
"You! and shall it be?" I cried
Eyes cast down, she asked demurely,
"Hath the clover not replied?"
Nude in Forest Clover by Wynn Bullock
"On the edge looking over
all I can see is a four leaf clover
Maybe a sign of things to come
should I jump or should I run?"
Today, the 4-leaf clover has come to symbolize the luck o' the Irish. Slainté!