Clover is one of those garden pests that sparks a flood of e-mail and letters to yours truly every summer. But we actually celebrate the beautiful creation around St. Patrick's Day, when everyone you know is Irish.
According to the Academic American Encyclopedia, the original shamrock of Ireland is trifolium repens forma minus, or white clover.
Representatives of the Clover Speciality Co. said some plants like pepperwort, water clover, and oxalis always grow four leaves. Some say these are not the original shamrocks. Trifolium white clover doesn't always have four leaves, but when it does produce the fourth one, it is usually smaller than the other three.
I found some fun facts on the company's Web site (fourleafclover.com). They specialize in growing the original shamrocks from seed. The person who plucks a four-leaf shamrock is said to have the luck of the Irish. According to Irish tradition, three of the leaves are for faith, hope, and love, and the last one is for luck. Some Irish traditions, according to the Clover Specialty Co., believe the three-leaf clover represents the Holy Trinity for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the special fourth leaf symbolizes God's grace.
Just before my grandmother passed away, she gave me a pot full of shamrocks. Little did I know that it would be a gift that keeps her memory alive for me. Oxalis is almost indestructible. She told me she dug this plant out of the garbage and gave it a little water and love, and two years after she willed it to me, it is still going strong.
Trifolium repens clovers are bright green with a faint white ring near the base of the leaf. The fourth leaf usually is a little smaller than the rest. Their stems are also smaller than their cousins. Marsilea quadrifolia is similar in color, but the plant will usually produce four leaves on each stem and all leaflets will be the same size.
Oxalis deppei has green leaflets with dark purple markings in the center of its leaves, and longer stems; all its leaflets will be about the same size. You can also find purple shamrocks. Oxalis regnellii triangularis has three dark-plum leaflets and long stems with lighter purple markings in the center of the leaflets.
The roots are like small bulbs that look like braids. Like any other houseplant, they like indirect sun and moderate moisture. Give them a little fertilizer in their water and they are happy. Their bulbs go into a period of dormancy, usually in the winter and late summer.
You know they are ready for a rest when the leaves stop sprouting and the whole plant starts looking weak. Pull off the brown leaves and dry out the plant, and let it rest for about a month. When you see a few sprouts start up again, bring it back into indirect light and give it a bit of fertilizer in its water. The leaves will reemerge in the early spring to leaf out for a few months.
If your shamrocks start to look ratty and weak, try replanting them in fresh soil. This happens if they are left in the same pot for many years. Be careful not to plant them too deep. The braids should be planted about half an inch to an inch below the soil surface.
Give someone a bit of good old-fashioned Irish luck this spring by sharing a basket of shamrocks.
I will appear at the Toledo Home and Garden show at 3 p.m. Sunday at SeaGate Centre to talk about indoor plants. Don't forget to stop by!