Shamrock plants are in abundance in stores every March for St. Patrick’s Day. Have you ever wondered how the humble shamrock plant became associated with St. Patrick? For that matter, Ireland in general? And, what if you take home one of those lovely plants; is it just a one-time shot like so many other holiday plants or can this be a plant that you’ll keep beyond the holiday?
Legend and Lore
To this day there is no consensus on which botanical species is the “true” shamrock that everyone knows and loves. In simple terms, a shamrock is a clover with three leaves. In Irish, shamrock comes from the word seamróg which means summer plant.
Shamrocks were sacred to the Druids in Ireland; they had many triple deities. In the Celtic religion, three was a mystical number and the shamrock was associated with the sun wheel. Then came St. Patrick. According to Wikipedia, the first evidence of a link between St. Patrick and the shamrock plant appears in 1675 on the St. Patrick’s Coppers or Halpennies which show St. Patrick preaching to a crowd and holding a shamrock.
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The Irish legend of St. Patrick says that when he was a missionary, he had trouble getting the idea of the Holy Trinity across to people. According to Laura C. Martin in Wildflower Folklore, “The chief of a tribe asked how one could be three. St. Patrick, seeing a shamrock growing close by, bent and picked a leaf and said, “Here in this leaf, three in one, this is a symbol of my faith, Three Gods in One.” The chief was impressed by the analogy and professed his faith.”
Eventually, St. Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland and the shamrock plant has been the symbol of Ireland since the 18th century. It did have some dark days when “wearing of the green” and using the symbol of the shamrock plant was associated with rebellion in the 19th century. Today, the shamrock plant is a registered trademark by the Government of Ireland. The shamrock is to Ireland what the rose is to England and the thistle is to Scotland. In fact, the shamrock is in the United Kingdom’s Royal Coat of Arms. It grows from a single stem along with the rose and thistle. It’s a symbol of unity between the three kingdoms and can be found on public buildings and such in Britain and in Ireland. A fun fact; it’s even on Buckingham Palace.
Lore: The leaves of the shamrock plant are said to stand upright to signal a storm’s coming.
Lore: Wood sorrel, a member of the Oxalis family, is a symbol for joy and maternal tenderness.
How to Care for a Shamrock Plant
In my experience, the shamrock plant that you can purchase around St. Patrick’s Day is exceedingly hardy. You can usually find them in two color variations, bright green and purple. I bought shamrock plants for my kids years ago and I still have them. I don’t have tons of time for fussy houseplants and my shamrock plants fit the bill. Knowing how to take care of plants in pots successfully year-round can be tricky. But not with the shamrock plant. Now, I’m sure you can find tons of gardeners who fuss over their shamrocks, but not me. Mine are sitting in a bright east-facing window that gets morning sun and filtered light the rest of the day. I am careful not to over water them giving them water only when they start to look a little droopy. I also water my plants directly in the soil at the base of their stems or from the bottom. That way the pretty flowers and stems don’t get hurt.
Helpful Hint: Lots of people get confused and think their shamrocks are dead when they see them at night. But, don’t worry. They’re not dead. They naturally close their leaves at dusk and reopen them in the morning. But, if they don’t reopen by mid-day, then it’s a sure sign your plant needs some water.
The shamrock plants you buy around the holidays are actually bulbs. In theory, they need some time to rest and rejuvenate. This is usually done in summer by stopping watering and letting the plants die back for a few weeks. In reality, I don’t work that hard with my plants. What I find is that around the beginning of summer, my plants will start to look a little bare. Around that time the days and nights outside are usually warm, which is important because these are tender perennials. So, I take my pots outside to a shady, but bright spot on my deck and leave them there. I don’t even water them unless we haven’t had rain for a while. They seem to love being outdoors and start filling in and flowering again.
Shamrock plants don’t require the work of growing seedlings indoors and are certainly less fussy than planting vegetables in pots. But they do like some care from time to time. While they are compact plants, they may start to outgrow their pots. So, they can be gently divided and separated into new pots. And they do enjoy being re-potted in high-quality potting soil being given some houseplant food from time to time.
My shamrock plants bloom year-round. Their blooms are delicate, white and numerous. After they’re spent I do remove old brown stalks just to make the plants look nicer in my window.
So, if you’re looking for an easy houseplant and a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, look no further than the shamrock plant. It just may bring you a little luck o’ the Irish!
Do you grow shamrock plants? We’d love to hear in the comments below.