While you were growing up you probably went around looking for four leaf clovers because they brought you good luck. At least, so your elementary school teachers and parents may have told you. Maybe you asked why, or maybe you took it at face value; but either way it’s likely you didn’t really get that much of a straight answer. Perhaps something about leprechauns at the end of rainbows? Let’s tackle the subject then. Why are four leaf clovers considered lucky?
Further Reading: What Is the Difference Between Shamrocks and Clovers?
The Clover Plant
Just so we’re all on the same page, the four leaf clover is a variation of the clover plant. That is to say, the four leaf clover is not its own plant.
Clovers are generally used as fodder plants, meaning they’re used as a part of animal feed; the most common which is the white clover. They’re also really great at being pollinated by bees, and are a decent natural fertilizer since they help deal with nitrogen in the soil.
You’ve probably noticed that clovers of all kinds generally only have three leaves. Four leaves do exist of course, but they’re far rarer than their three-leaved counterparts. Set in 2009, it appears that the world record for the most leaves on a single clover is 56.
We wonder if that clover had to go through the nutty Guinness World Record process?
If you’re curious, it was the clover that gave us the shamrock. Shamrocks are just clovers with three leaves. The term itself is not associated with any specific clover species.
Shamrocks are tied a lot to Saint Patrick and that whole Holy Trinity thing. We’re not going to dive into that symbolism too much in this post, but you can probably guess that it has to do with clovers having three leaves and the Holy Trinity being a thing about threes.
Further Reading: Who Was Saint Patrick?
Having Four Leaves
Probability wise, a four leaf clover has about a 1 in 5,000 chance of occurring. And it turns out, nobody actually knows why four leaf clovers exist. There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not the four leaves are a result of the environment or of genetics. The fact that these clovers are so rare leads us to some recessive genes. Though they may be caused by some defects as the clover develops. Or it’s a hodge-podge of weird genetics coming together to make the thing have four leaves.
The point is, we don’t really know. University of Georgia research points us to a genetic direction, though.
So Why Four Leaf Clovers Lucky?
Some legends tie the four leaf clover to the Bible; specifically Genesis. Basically Eve took a four leaf clover on her way out.
Except a large part of the four leaf clover is tied to Celtic mythos. Which means the origins of four leaf clovers and luck likely predate the Bible intermingling with those stories. Apparently the clovers were used as symbols to ward off evil spirits. Later the clover evolved as a tool to detect faeries and the like. Keeping in mind that Celtic mythos generally depicts them in a rather mischievous manner.
So four leaf clovers were spiritually important in ancient Ireland. Which is probably why Saint Patrick latched onto the clover when he sought to convert the Irish to Christianity. He picked the Shamrock instead because it was more common, came in threes, and lined up with the Holy Trinity. Probably.
The reason people latched onto the four leaf clover as symbol of luck is pretty nebulous, though. It’s quite likely that a large portion of that association was a result of their rarity.
But, as we talked about earlier, clovers are really good for the soil. So back then, when people were primarily concerned with agriculture, good soil was key. Having this special plant that helped treat soil (before we understood how nitrogen affected it) was probably more associated with some magical blessings.
And we all know that magical blessings are quite lucky.
Want to go hunt for four leaf clovers but not go outside? Go hunt here.