Metro-East Living

Clover gets to shine as shamrock only on St. Patrick’s Day

Think of clover as a shamrock on March 17.
Think of clover as a shamrock on March 17.

Q: A friend of mine gave me a shamrock plant a couple of weeks ago. She thought this was a great gift for me as I am part Irish. However, although the plant has three heart-shaped leaflets on every stem, the leaves also have a reddish color blended in with the green. The leaves also close up at night. Is this a true shamrock or what?

L. P. of Fairview Heights

A: There is no one single plant identified as a true shamrock. In a survey about 25 years ago carried out by Charles Nelson, who was working for the National Botanic Garden in Glasvein, north Dublin, Irish people were asked to collect what they believed to be the true shamrock plant and to send them to him.

More than 200 people from 30 countries responded. There were five main plants sent in: Forty-six percent were the lesser yellow trefoil or hop clover (Trifolium dubium). Thirty-five percent off the plants sent in were white Dutch clover (Trifolium reopens). The remaining were split among three plants identified as red clover (Trifolium pretense), black medic (Medicago lupulina) and wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). All of these plants possess a compound leaf with three or more heart-shaped leaves and are found all over the world.

Nelson said shamrocks only exist on St. Patrick’s Day, and every other day of the year they are a young clover plant.

The plant you are describing is actually as wood sorrel plant (Oxalis acetosella). If you pull the plant out of the container you will notice a bulb in the soil media. Over time this bulb will produce smaller bulbs capable of growing new younger plants and they will produce pinkish colored flowers.

If you look closely, the true shamrocks always have a small leprechaun sitting on a three heart-shaped leaf — and if you are really lucky there will a fourth leaf with a mug of beer.

Q: Our daffodils were in full bloom along with a magnolia tree when the weather got cold. Now the daffodils are limp and lying on the ground and the magnolia tree has dropped all of its floral petals. Did this cold weather kill our plants?

M. S. of Belleville

A: Your daffodils and other spring bulb plants should recover and not be hurt at all because their origin is from mountainous areas. Their sap is somewhat slimy and this serves an anti-freeze for the plant. If you cut the daffodils for an indoor arrangement, you will notice after time that this slime will slowly drain down into the water in the container.

With the magnolia tree, the flowers are finished and will not recover. Sometimes, if the cold weather is harsh as it was this spring, there can be some dieback on the stems as well. But the cold spell should not kill either the daffodils or the magnolia tree.

Things to do this week:

Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops and side-dress the plants with nitrogen fertilizer or dried manure.

Remove also the weak, diseased, or damaged canes from raspberry plants before new growth begins. Remove the old fruiting canes if they were allowed to overwinter, and shorten canes if necessary.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to