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Happy St Patricks Day! But what is Shamrock?

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

According to Irish legend, the druids in Ireland looked at the Shamrock as a sacred plant because its leaves formed a triad and the number three (or “tree” in Irish*) was a mystical number in the Celtic religion.

But what, exactly and botanically, is Shamrock?

Is it one of these?

st pats shamrock_001 b

Or these?

st pats shamrock_001 a

Well according to a 1988 survey of Irish people by Charles Nelson (then Director of the Irish Botanic Gardens) there are a number of possibilities:

Trifolium dubium (lesser trefoil) 46%

Trifolium repens (white clover) 35%

Medicago lupulina (black medick) 7%

Oxalis acetosella (wood sorrel) 5%

Trifolium pratense (red clover) 4%

So, it seems, you pays your money and takes your choice!

None of the species in the survey is unique to Ireland, and all are common European species, so there is no botanical basis for the widespread belief that the Shamrock is a unique species of plant that only grows in Ireland!

Dr M says: Do get in touch if you feel you know better what Shamrock is!


* Dr M sends deep apologies to all his irish friends and colleagues including Clídna, Clionadh, Clíodna and, of course, Clíona (the Zostera Queen) for this grossly inappropriate, cheap and barely even cheerful attempt at humour!


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