Metro-East Living

It’s only a true shamrock if you find a leprechaun sitting on it

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.

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