Four-leaf clover

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Four-leaf white clover (Trifolium repens).

The four-leaf clover is a rare variation of the common three-leaf clover. According to traditional sayings, such clovers bring good luck,[1] though it is not clear when or how this idea began. The earliest mention of "Fower-leafed or purple grasse" is from 1640 and simply says that it was kept in gardens because it was "good for the purples in children or others".[2] A description from 1869 says that four-leaf clovers were "gathered at night-time during the full moon by sorceresses, who mixed it with vervain and other ingredients, while young girls in search of a token of perfect happiness made quest of the plant by day".[3] The first reference to luck might be from an 11-year-old girl, who wrote in an 1877 letter to St. Nicholas Magazine, "Did the fairies ever whisper in your ear, that a four-leaf clover brought good luck to the finder?"[4]


An actual survey of approximately 7 million clovers found the frequency to be about 5000 to 1, twice the popular probability of 10,000 to 1. According to this survey, the frequency of a five-leaf clover is 24,400 to 1, and of a six-leaf clover is 312,500 to 1.[5] Even so, this probability has not deterred collectors who have reached records as high as 160,000 four-leaf clovers in a lifetime.[6] The world record for number of four-leaf clovers collected in one hour is 166, set by American Katie Borka on June 23, 2018.[7]

Clovers can have more than four leaves. Five-leaf clovers are less commonly found naturally than four-leaf clovers;[8][9] however, they, too, have been successfully cultivated.[10] Some four-leaf clover collectors, particularly in Ireland, regard the five-leaf clover, known as a rose clover, as a particular prize.[11] The most leaves ever found on a single clover stem (Trifolium repens L.) is 56 and was discovered by Shigeo Obara of Hanamaki City, Iwate, Japan, on 10 May 2009.[12][13]


A four-leaf clover amongst others with three leaves

It is debated whether the fourth leaf is caused genetically or environmentally. Its relative rarity (1 in 5,000 clovers[5]) suggests a possible recessive gene appearing at a low frequency. Alternatively, four-leaf clovers could be caused by somatic mutation or a developmental error of environmental causes. They could also be caused by the interaction of several genes that happen to segregate in the individual plant. It is possible all four explanations could apply to individual cases. This means that multiple four-leaf clovers could be found in the same cloverplant.[14]

Researchers from the University of Georgia have reported finding the gene that turns ordinary three-leaf clovers into the coveted four-leaf types. Masked by the three-leaf gene and strongly influenced by environmental condition, molecular markers now make it possible to detect the presence of the gene for four-leaves and for breeders to work with it. The results of the study, which also located two other leaf traits in the white-clover genome, were reported in the July/August 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America.[15]

The other leaf traits, the red fleck mark and red midrib, a herringbone pattern that streaks down the center of each leaflet in a bold red color, were mapped to nearby locations, resolving a century-old question as to whether these leaf traits were controlled by one gene or two separate genes.

White clover has many genes that affect leaf color and shape, and the three in the study were very rare. These traits can be quite attractive, particularly if combined with others, and can turn clover into an ornamental plant for use in flower beds.[16]

There are reports of farms in the US which specialize in four-leaf clovers, producing as many as 10,000 a day (to be sealed in plastic as "lucky charms") by introducing a genetically engineered ingredient to the plants to encourage the aberration (there are, however, widely available cultivars that regularly produce leaves with multiple leaflets – see below).[17]

Multi-leaved cultivars[edit]

There are some cultivars of white clover (Trifolium repens) which regularly produce more than three leaflets, including purple-leaved T. repens "Purpurascens Quadrifolium" and green-leaved T. repens "Quadrifolium".[18] Some clovers have more spade shape leaves, rather than the usual rounded ones. This may be a genetic mutation. Some genetic mutations in clovers include spade-like shaped leaves or a dotted rusty colour on the leaves.

Trifolium repens "Good Luck" is a cultivar which has three, four, or five green, dark-centered leaflets per leaf.[19]

Other species[edit]

Other plants may be mistaken for, or misleadingly sold as, "four-leaf clovers"; for example, Oxalis tetraphylla is a species of wood sorrel with leaves resembling a four-leaf clover.[20][21] Other species that have been sold as "four-leaf clovers" include Marsilea quadrifolia.[22][23]

Symbolic usage[edit]

Example of a five-leaf clover
Four-leaf clover pictured in the coat of arms of Lääne-Nigula Parish


Some folk traditions assign a different attribute to each leaf of a clover. The first leaf represents hope, the second stands for faith, the third is for love and the fourth leaf brings luck to the finder.[citation needed] Some reports claim six to be fame and seven to be longevity, though the notions' origination is unknown.

Others say that four-leaf clovers granted the power to see fairies, or that they are related to Saint Patrick's use of the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the Irish.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harry Oliver (2010). Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers: The Origins of Old Wives' Tales and Superstitions in Our Everyday Lives (reprint ed.). Penguin. ISBN 9781101442814.
  2. ^ Parkinson J. 1640. Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants or An Herball of Large Extent. Tho. Cotes. Publisher, London, Pp 1110-1112.
  3. ^ Masters MT. 1869. Vegetable Teratology, An Account of the Principal Deviations from the Usual Construction of Plants. Robert Hardwicke Publisher, London, P 356.
  4. ^ Child, Madge. 1877. In a letter titled "Four-Leaved Clovers," (St. Nicholas; an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks), Volume 4, pp. 634-5, in the subsection of letters called "Jack-in-the-Pulpit", July 1877.
  5. ^ a b "[1]" share the luck; Bern, Switzerland, 2017: "How rare are four-leaf clovers really?"
  6. ^ George, Jason (17 March 2008). "160,000? That's a lot of luck". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  7. ^ Ross, Hailey "[2]" The Free Lance-Star. 25 June 2018.
  8. ^ Hershey, David R. Re: how common is a five leaf clover?. 16 March 2000.
  9. ^ Facts About Five-leaf Clovers Archived 2008-12-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  10. ^ Five-leaf clover Archived 2012-09-08 at Mt. Vernon Register-News. 14 October 2008.
  11. ^ Mabey, Richard, Flora Britannica, p. 225 (citing Edward and Helene Wenis of Leonia, New Jersey, U.S., writing in BSBI News, 56, 1990)
  12. ^ [3]. Guinness World Record. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  13. ^ "WEEK IN PHOTOS: Unlucky Kangaroo, 56-Leaf Clover, More". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  14. ^ Marcel Cleene, Marie Claire Lejeune (2002). Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe: Herbs. 2. Man & Culture.
  15. ^ Tashiro, R.M., et al. Leaf Trait Coloration in White Clover and Molecular Mapping of the Red Midrib and Leaflet Number Traits. Crop Science 7 June 2010.
  16. ^ [4] The Georgia White Clover Ornamental Collection.
  17. ^ Mabey, Richard, Ibid, p. 225
  18. ^ Lord, Tony (ed), RHS Plant Finder 2006–2007, (20th edition), Dorling Kindersley, London, 2006, p. 743. ISBN 1-4053-1455-9
  19. ^ Archived 2008-10-11 at the Wayback Machine (photo)
  20. ^ The Four Leaf Clover Kit (Mega Mini Kits) (Paperback). Amazon review. 12 September 2006.
  21. ^ Good Luck Plant Kit Archived 2008-12-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  22. ^ All About Shamrocks Four-Leaf Clovers Archived 2008-12-14 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  23. ^ Keenan, Susan M. The Four Leaf Clover Archived 2009-01-30 at the Wayback Machine. 11 March 2008.
  24. ^ "SpaceX's 3rd Space Station Resupply Flight Gets 3-Sided Mission Patch". Retrieved 23 February 2015
  25. ^ "Clover Park School District Homepage".
  26. ^ "Clover Pub - European Pub".
  27. ^ "Celtic Computers | Laptop & PC Computer Repair".
  28. ^ "Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H". Retrieved 11 March 2016
  29. ^ Grauschopf, Sandra (20 November 2019). "11 Juicy Facts About Four-Leaf Clovers".