Why Four-Leaf Clovers Are Considered Lucky

Finding a four-leaf clover on St. Patrick's Day has got to be extra lucky.

The luck of the Irish

Whether you’re a fan of the Boston Celtics, or just have a countdown to St. Patrick’s Day on your calendar, you’re definitely aware of the shamrock, or three-leafed clover, and all it represents: Ireland, Celtic heritage, green beer (maybe not that last one). But when it comes to the famously lucky four-leaf clover, the meaning gets more complicated and the legends are many. Watch out for these St. Patrick’s Day “facts” that are actually false.

The history of four-leaf clovers meaning luck

One legend has it that the luck factor comes from Eve herself. As Adam and Eve were leaving the Garden of Eden, Eve apparently plucked a single four-leafed clover as a souvenir of paradise, and this religious connection has led to them being considered lucky ever since. The Celts considered four-leaf clovers to have magical powers of protection, able to ward off evil and bad luck. It was also believed that carrying a clover allowed the bearer to see fairies. Celtic fairies were dangerous little creatures who might play deadly tricks or steal your children, so carrying a clover meant that you could take evasive action if you spotted one! This is why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

The St. Patrick’s Day connection

Another legend says that when St. Patrick brought Christianity to ancient Ireland, he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: one leaf represented the Father, the next the Son, and the third the Holy Ghost. However, the belief that four-leaf clovers are lucky may have already existed among the Celtic peoples, probably because of the proliferation of clovers in Ireland, and the rarity of finding one with four leaves. Many Celtic traditions were blended with the new religion over the years, and the importance of the clover was one of them. The four-leaf clover meaning became intertwined with Christianity so that the first three leaves came to represent faith, hope, love, and the fourth leaf, God’s grace, or luck! The story of how St. Patrick became synonymous with a drinking holiday has little to do with luck, and a lot to do with Americans.

Why do four-leaf clovers exist?

Although it has been said that four-leaf clovers are exceedingly rare—as few as one in 10,000!—an independent study carried out by Swiss researchers looked at 5.7 million clovers and found that the likelihood of finding one four-leaf clover was one in 5,076 three-leafed ones. Much better odds! A genetic study at the University of Georgia concluded that any more than three leaves on a clover are due to a genetic mutation in the genome of the common clover species, white clover (or Trifolium repens). This tracks with the Swiss study, where they discovered that the likelihood of finding a five-leafed clover (the extra leaf represents wealth, so keep an eye out for these) was one per 24,390 three-leafed clovers, and the chance of a six-leafed clover was one per 312,500 three leafers. No word as to the meaning of that sixth leaf, but being so rare, it must be something lucky! You probably never knew these things about St. Patrick’s Day.

How to find your own lucky charm

The Swiss researchers have some advice as to finding your very own four-leafed good luck charm. First, find a patch of clover. Clover patches tend to be large; because of its soil-improving nitrogen fixing abilities, it is often sown as a cover crop. There are some similar looking three-leafed plants out there, but clover is irresistible to honeybees, so if you see some buzzing about the flowers, you’re probably in luck. Make sure to search while the sun is still up because clovers tend to go to sleep early, folding up their leaves about an hour before sunset. Once you’ve found a likely, well-lit spot, it’s almost like a magic eye painting: relax your eyes and scan for the correct shape. The good news is that because it’s a genetic mutation, one four-leaf clover means another usually isn’t far away, so you can double your luck! For more good luck, check out these St. Patrick’s Day traditions.

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