Everyone has a touch of Irish blood on St. Patrick's Day. And how about a touch of Irish luck? You might find a wee bit if you stumble across a four-leaf clover.
According to Irish tradition, the leaves of a shamrock stand for faith, hope, love - and the last one is for luck. According to the Clover Specialty Co., some believe the three-leaf clover represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the rare fourth leaf symbolizes God's grace.
Irish luck comes in many colors, including green, green and white, and even purple, just as there are several types of shamrocks and clover.
Plants such as the pepperwort, water clover, and oxalis always grow four leaves, but some say they are not the original shamrocks. According to the Academic American Encyclopedia, the original shamrock of Ireland is trifolium repens forma minus, also known as white clover.
White clover doesn't always have four leaves, but when it does produce the fourth one, it is usually smaller than the other three.
Trifolium repens clovers are bright green with a faint white ring near the base of the leaf. 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, longer stems, with all leaflets being about the same size.
My favorite is the purple shamrock. Oxalis regnellii triangularis has three dark-plum leaflets and long stems with lighter-purple markings in the center of the leaflets.
The shamrock's roots are like bulbs, but they aren't round or oval. The roots look like a braid of thick stems. Like any other houseplant, it prefers indirect sun and moderate moisture. Give it a little fertilizer in the water and it is happy. Its bulb goes into a period of dormancy, usually in the winter and late summer.
You know the plant is ready for a rest when the leaves stop sprouting and the whole plant starts looking weak. Pull off the brown leaves and let it dry out and rest for about a month. When you see a few sprouts starting up again, bring it back into indirect light and give it a bit of fertilizer in its water. The plant will leaf out for a few months in early spring.
If your shamrock starts to look weak, try replanting it in fresh soil. This happens if it is left in the same pot for many years. Be careful not to plant it too deep. The braids should be planted about half an inch to an inch below the soil surface.
If you want to add more lucky clover to your garden, it makes a great ground cover where no other grass will grow. But watch out. Lespedeza cuneata is usually planted for erosion control or to feed cows, and can also invade the rest of your turf.
Try another, less aggressive cousin. Lespedeza thunbergii, also known as small bush clover, is a beautiful flowering shrub with tiny green leaves. It's common name is Thunberg's bush clover. The flowers are a rosy purple and it blooms from late summer through fall.
It will need some space because one shrub can grow up to five feet tall in full sun. It's wispy, long stems filled with delicate foliage and flowers bend over as the plant reaches its full height, creating a beautiful flowering waterfall. Plant it with purple sage and silver-leafed artemisias for a show-stopping combination.
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