OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology
(This Plant of the Week was coauthored with Professor Jane Healy-McMillin.)
Long associated with St.
Patrick’s Day, the shamrock is not actually a species of plant, but can best
be described as a clover-like plant with leaves made up of 3 leaflets.
There are at least 4 species that go by the common name Irish Shamrock:
also known as the European Wood Sorrel, this early spring blooming
perennial has solitary white flowers with purple veins.
Trifolium repens minus:
also known as White Clover and Hop Clover, this small perennial has rose
colored flowers found in a globe-shaped head.
also known as Small Hop Clover and Yellow Clover, this perennial has
yellow flowers in clusters of 3 to 15.
also known as Black Medic, Hop Clover, and Yellow Trefoil, this annual
has small yellow flowers.
While all 4 are native
to Europe, most people consider the small-leaved Oxalis
Acetosella to be the “true” shamrock.
The name shamrock dates to well before the time of St. Patrick (about 385
– 464). The Druids considered the
clover-like Oxalis Acetosella to be a
mystic symbol associated with the Celtic sun wheel.
The Celtic name for little clover was seanrog, which became
shamrog and eventually shamrock.
Legend has it that St.
Patrick took this pagan symbol and subverted its symbolism to explain the
doctrine of Trinity. He noted that
it was possible to have three Gods in one, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost making up a single God, just like the three leaflets of the shamrock make
up a whole leaf on a single stalk. Over the centuries the shamrock has become the emblem of
Ireland and it is customary to wear a real or artificial shamrock leaf on St.
St. Patrick, the patron
saint of Ireland, was born in Britain, but was captured by Irish marauders when
only 16. He was enslaved and worked
as a herdsman for six years. He spent many hours praying for deliverance and was told in a
dream he would soon return to his own country.
He escaped and eventually made his way back to Britain where he entered
the priesthood. A vision called him
to return to Ireland to Christianize the Irish and in 432 he was consecrated
Bishop of Ireland. It was at Tara,
the seat of the high kings of Ireland, that St. Patrick made his earliest
conversions. He was one of the most
successful missionaries in history; Ireland was almost entirely Christian at the
time of his death.