Clovers are annual, biennial and perennial flowering plants of the genus Trifolium and the pea Family Fabaceae. They have small, fragrant, pea-like flowers and round, 3-lobed leaves. Clovers grow mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. Cultivated worldwide, the clovers are used as a livestock feed, cover crop and green manure.
The origin of the word clover is complex and ambiguous. Clover is linguistically lined to the Anglo-Saxon cloefre or clafre, the Dutch klaver, the German klee, Proto-Germanic klaibron, and several other words. The most accepted theory is that the world clover derives from the West Germanic word klawaz, meaning ‘sticky pap’, a reference to the sticky juice of clover. The interpretation of the Latin name Trifolium is rather straightforward. The word comes from the Latin tres, which means ‘three’ and folium, which means ‘leaf’. Clovers are also known under the common name shamrock. Etymologically, this word is Gaelic origin. It comes from the word seamrog, meaning “little clover”.
Clover Flower Symbolism
A Symbol of Good Luck, Prosperity and Inner Strength
Clover is probably the only plant whose leaves are even more popular than its blossoms. There is a wealth of lore, legends and symbolism about this plant. Undoubtedly the most wide-spread belief about clovers is the auspiciousness of a four-leaf specimen. The four-leaf clover is seen as a powerful magical talisman. “If you find an even ash or a four-leaved clover, rest assured you’ll see your true love ere the day is over”. This is a verse taken from an old magical charm from North England.
The clover blossoms, on the other hand, are symbols of gentleness, subtlety and purity. Metaphysically, the clover flowers also symbolize calm inner strength and innate prosperity consciousness.
The belief in the abundant spirit of this flower has been so strong, that it got reflected in the proverbial phrase ‘To live in clover’. This saying was synonymous to saying that one lived in luxury and affluence.
A Symbol of Love and Marriage
For centuries, clover has been used in magic and divination, mostly to foresee and attract romance, love and marriage. For example, to dream of a clover meant that one would have a happy and prosperous marriage. In Wales, it was believed that a two-leaved clover, if found by accident and put under the pillow, would reveal, through a prophetic dream, the future lover.
In some European countries, a girl or a young woman would place a four-leaf clover over a door. It was believed that the first man to walk through it would be her future husband. In a similar superstition from Quebec, a girl would place a four-leaf clover in her shoe. The first man whom she then meets would be a namesake of her husband-to-be.
Clover as a Symbol of Hope
The ancients depicted hope as a little child standing on tiptoe, holding tight in his hand a clover flower. One reason for this symbolism of hope was the observation that clover sometimes grew in places where it had never existed before. Today, many clover species are considered invasive, exactly because of this property of ‘spontaneously appearing’ (spreading) in new areas.
The Legend of the Girl Who Could See Fairies
In the Wikka tradition, finding a four-leaf clover was thought to not only bring good luck, but also enhance one’s mental and psychic powers. It was believed that four-leaf clovers grew only in places visited by the fairies, the elfs and the dwarfs.
There is a Cornish legend of a young milkmaid who once placed a handful of grass and four-leaf clover on top of her head. She did so to relieve the pressure from the heavy bucket full of milk that she had to head-carry back home. As soon as the clovers touched her head, she was able to see hundreds of fairies, elves and other tiny beings surrounding her.
The clover plant, however, is haunted by some dark beings, too. German folklore has the concept of feldgeister, or field spirits/demons, who dwell in the trees and plants. One of these demons is Kleesau, also known as Clover Sow. He resides in clover meadows and steals human children.
Another French tale tells that the devil spun the doodler (an opportunistic parasitic plant) at night, trying to destroy the clover flower. It was believed that the clover was a creation of God, while the dodder was devil’s counter-plant.
The Druid priests claimed that the clover enabled them see evil entities and protect themselves against these dark forces.
A Sacred Protective Symbol
According to an old legend, when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, Eve took with her a four-leaf clover. Finding a four-leaf clover in a meadow brings a piece of Paradise in that person’s life.
The Celtic Triskelion symbol (the triple spiral motif) is one of the primary symbols of Paganism. It is believed that the design was inspired by the leaf of the clover flower. To the Druids, the clover was a talisman against evil spirits.
What Do the Various Colors of the Clover Flower Mean
Symbolism of a Yellow Clover Flower
All cultural symbolism of the clover flower applies to only two Trifolium species: Trifolium pratense, the red clover flower and Trifolium repens, the white clover flower.
Trifolium campestre (trefoil) and Trifolium dubium (little hop clover) are yellow-flower varieties. Apart from the general meaning attached to all clover flowers, no other symbolic attribute has been given to these species.
Symbolism of a Red Clover Flower
The botanical name of the red clover flower is Trifolium pratense. This variety is also known as trefoil, wild clover, meadow clover, peavine clover, purple clover, beebread, honeysuckle clover, broad-leafed clover, cow grass and marl grass.
In the flower language of the Victorian era, the red clover flower meant protection, success, money, love, fidelity, consecration and exorcism. As a gift, the red clover flower conveyed the message ‘I promise’.
According to an old belief from Bohemia, a sprig of red clover secretly put in a husband’s shoe ensured his faithfulness, even if he travelled very far from home. A four-leaf clover placed under his pillow made certain that he would dream of her.
It was also believed that the red clover could heal the aches of the heart. The heartbroken were advised to place a clover flower in a pouch made of blue silk, and wear it near the heart. In another tradition, the newly-weds tucked a clover plant into their shoes, for a lasting and happy marriage.
Traditionally, red clovers were associated to money, success and prosperity. It was once customary to carry a red clover flower while signing any financial contracts and obligations.
The indigenous peoples of Virginia have a legend by which the flowers of the red clover have sprung from the blood of the red men slain in battle.
Symbolism of a White Clover Flower
The botanical name of the white clover flower is Trifolium repens. This variety is also known as moon clover, Dutch white clover, white shamrock, three-leaved grass, seamroy and Saint Patrick’s herb.
In the language of flowers, the white clover flower shares some of its symbolical meanings with the red clover flower. The white clover, too, symbolizes promise, happy and long marriage, virility, joyfulness, good luck, prosperity and protection. It also stands for joyousness and lightheartedness, as it holds the promise of a true love. The secret message conveyed through this flower is ‘Think of me’.
White clover flowers are also a symbol of ethereal beauty. There is a legend of King Arthur’s nephew who wants to marry Olwen. The girl was so beautiful, that she left a trail of white clover behind wherever she walked.
It was once believed that clover flowers could break a hex. When scattered around a space, removed any negativity and broke enchantments. Keeping white clover flowers in the pocket or in a pouch around the neck was another way to break a magic spell and restore balance.
To the Druids, the clover flower was a sacred plant, and its three leaves symbolized the trinity of the Earth, the sky and the sea. The white clover was a symbol of the spring equinox and an emblem of the triple goddesses. It was a symbol of the moon and the lunar influence. The nineteenth century English botanist Maxwell Masters described in his writings a ritual in which sorceresses, on a moonlit night, gathered white clover flowers.
In Ireland, the white shamrock is worn on St. Patrick’s Day. According to a legend, in the fifth century Saint Patrick used the white clover flower to teach king Aengus about the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. The clover plant became a symbol of the Holy Christian Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and the four-leaf one became a symbol of the Cross. An alternative interpretation states that the three-leaf clover represents the trinity of love, hope and faith, while the four-leaf one adds to these three a divine blessing.
Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Clover Flower
- Clover flower as a traditional medicinal herb: Clover flower has also been used in traditional medicine. In Britain, red clover juice was used to treat sore eyes and snakebites. In Ireland, clover tea was used to soothe colds, coughs and bee stings. On the Isle of Man it was believed that smoking clover in a pipe could heal a toothache.
- Darwin’s ‘clover-bee-cat’ illustration: Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, immortalized the red clover flowers in his work ‘Origin in Species’. He explained the complex web of relationship metaphor by linking the red clover to old maids and the price of beef. Simplified, his illustration starts with the bees, which eat the nectar of the red clover flower. Field mice feed on the bees. Cats eat mice. Since many old maid in small towns kept cats, there was a perfect balance, argued Darwin. But fewer old maid would lead to fewer cats, which in turn would result in more mice. An increase in mice population would mean fewer bees. Left without their pollinators, there would be a decline in the amount of clover available to the cattle. The result — a more expensive beef!
- National symbol of Ireland: The clover leaf is a national symbol of Ireland. On St. Patrick’s Say (March 17), people of Irish descent wear a green clover leaf to commemorate the saint.
- The odds of finding a four-leaf clover: It is estimated that to every 10,000 three-leaf clovers, there is one four-leaf specimen. Although very rare, clovers can also have more than four leaves. The ‘lucky’ four-leaf clover traditionally should be of the white clover flower variety. As the number of leaves increase, so does the rarity of finding such a specimen. Statistics estimates that the chances of finding a five-leaf clover flower is 1 to 100,000 — ten times lower than the odds of finding a four-leaf one. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the highest number of leaves was found on a plant of the Trifolium repens variety. The astonishing 56-leaf plant was found in 2009 in Japan.
The Best Time to Gift Someone A Clover Flower
The clover flower is not an ornamental or a cut flower. It is not cultivated in flower nurseries, nor sold in flower shops. It is a small-sized, wildflower plant. With that in mind, clovers are not flowers to be gifted to someone on any formal occasion — be it a birthday, an anniversary or a typical celebration.
Having said that, a bouquet of clover flowers can be gifted spontaneously, for no big reason, to someone near and dear. During a picnic in the wild, they can be tied into a floral head wreath (flower crown). Gifting a self-made bouquet of red clover flowers can be an absolutely romantic way of expressing love. Clovers are a perfect gift to friends and family members during the Midsummer Festival.
One should not forget that the clover flowers carry a strong mystical symbolism. A gift of clovers will always be appreciated by the ‘gypsy souls’, free spirits, indigo children, bohemians, romantics and nature lovers.