Would the real Shamrock please stand up?
As an Irish person with an interest in botany I am bemused by the lack of a single definitive species that equates to that commonly and affectionately known as Shamrock. Shamrock could be any one of 5 plant species and trying to find out which is the true original Shamrock is difficult. In true Irish fashion, there is no straight answer.
The name Shamrock comes from the Irish word seamair, meaning clover. However other species are also in the pot for the title of the true shamrock. The frontrunners are:
Trifolium dubium - lesser yellow trefoil
Trifolium repens - the white flowered clover, very common in grassland, trifolium meaning with three leaflets and repens meaning creeping
Medicago lupulina - black medick, lupulinus means resembling hops
Oxalis acetosella - wood sorrel, with white flowers, also known as wood shamrock.
Trifolium pratense - red clover
Charles Nelson (the author of many beautiful books on Irish plants and the history of gardening in
Shamrock used to come in clumps that were divided up and pinned onto lapels for St Patrick’s day
The emblem of the shamrock is actually a registered trademark of the Irish Government and is meant to denote ‘Irishness’. However its use is worldwide and it might refer to a hotel in
There is a myth that shamrock does not grow beyond the shores of the emerald isle. This is a falsehood as the plants mentioned above are also native to Europe and parts of
Trifolium repens, Oxalis and Medicago are all listed on www.invasive.org, the database of plants invading natural areas in the
‘The Drowning of the Shamrock” today refers to the practice of getting as drunk as possible as early in the day as possible. It used to be that the shamrock that was pinned to the lapel for Mass on St Patricks day ended up at the bottom of a pint glass that evening, and was then thrown over the shoulder when the last drop was downed. Hence the shamrock was literally drowned in beer. But I have never seen this done. Perhaps it is still done down the country (ie. in the rural areas of
But its not all about drink I am glad to say. Every town in Ireland has a parade and every year the costumes of the parade goers seem to get more ridiculous. Leprechaun hats and face paints are now de rigueur. And the kids just love it.
I wonder which species of Shamrock was presented to President Obama today and how they got it through customs! I am off now to indulge in some pageantry and I hope this post of shamrocking was of interest to some one. La Fheile Padraig to one and all.