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Is the Shamrock Plant a Weed?

Nestled in the Christian season of Lent is the fun holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day. Also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, this is a day where Lent prohibitions are temporarily lifted for one day of dancing, drinking, and feasting. This day is a global celebration of all things Irish and to honor Saint Patrick, who traditionally died on March 17th.

Saint Patrick Stained Glass
Saint Patrick with Shamrock

Saint Patrick (385-461 AD) was a missionary to the Irish people. For approximately 40 years, he converted the people from a form of Celtic polytheism to Christianity. Folklore tells us that Saint Patrick used the shamrock plant to explain the Holy Trinity, the idea that God presents Himself to humanity as God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

Shamrocks are a part of the clover plant family. The name comes from the Irish phrase ‘seamair óg’ (young clover). Its main feature is the heart-shaped leaflets that grow in sets of three. Typically, a shamrock plant refers to the species Trifolium dubium, Trifolium repens (white clover), Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense, and Oxalis acetosella (Wood Sorrel).

clover leaf
The shamrock is distinguished by its heart-shaped leaflets.
white clover plant
A white clover plant is one of the species you'll find shamrocks.

In an uncontrolled environment, these three-leafed plants are weeds. Because of their creeping design, they can cover grounds easily and quickly. Mowing won’t have an adverse effect because they can easily recover. Their leaves and flowers attract bees. Finally, their need for moisture and nutrients can deprive your desired plants (like grass) from establishing.

On the other hand, in controlled environments, like a garden, they can be a huge benefit. The plants have been used to aid living mulch systems and cash crops (like fruits vegetables). They have been used in medicines to treat for things like scurry, nausea, and sore throats. These clovers are also harvested for salads, seasonings, and tea. Their abundance and widespread availability make this plant an excellent option for survival food.

And while we may destroy these plants in turfs tomorrow, today we will pluck one and wear it proudly. We’ll do so in honor of the Irish people and because some of us forgot to wear green. We don’t want any leprechauns sneaking up to pinch us.

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
–An Irish Toast

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