Sean Edwards mzfses at MAIL1.MCC.AC.UK
Mon Apr 9 16:25:28 CDT 2001

> What is shamrock?  I thought that it is Trifolium repens, but my
> friend insists that it is something else. I don't know the Irish
> flora well enough in order to offer her another name.

JC Willis. 1960. A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns (6th
edition). Cambridge. Says shamrock is Trifolium repens.

FN Howes. 1974. A Dictionary of Everyday and Useful Plants.
Cambridge. Says the true shamrock is generally considered to be
black medick or non-such [sic], Medicago lupulina, but white clover
is commonly used as shamrock. The wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella
which also has trifoliate leaves has also been used.

Chambers Dictionary: in living popular tradition the lesser yellow
trefoil: in the English poets often wood sorrel: according to some
white clover, hop trefoil, black medick, or some other (or any) leaf
or plant with three leaflets.

A sample brought in from a street seller in to Manchester Museum
some years ago proved to be Trifolium dubium.

I'm inclined to think that it is Trifolium repens (if it could ever
be pinned down from the mists of time), but that other trifoliate
plants are substituted by street sellers because joe-public might
feel disinclined to pay for recognizable white clover. The
identification of non-flowering little yellow trefoils (including
black medick) is obscure enough to suggest that the shamrock is
something peculiarly Irish. Just a slightly cynical view?

I hope I can get away with such scurrilous thoughts, being called

Sean R. Edwards BSc PhD,
Keeper of Botany,
The Manchester Museum, Manchester University, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
'Phone: +44 (0)161-275-2671/2; fax: +44 (0)161-275-2676
Email: sean.edwards at

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