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St Patrick's Day and Shamrock

Shamrock, the emblem synonymous with Saint Patrick, has a very long and colourful tradition. It means many things to different people and can evoke messages relating to national pride, religion, history, celebration etc.

In horticultural terms what is Shamrock and why do we wear it on St. Patrick’s Day ?

Shamrock, seamróg or seamair óg, the Irish for a young clover can be found growing wild throughout Ireland. It is worn on the feast day of St. Patrick, 17th March, to represent a link with Saint Patrick, the bishop who spread the Christian message in Ireland. It is said Saint Patrick used the three leaved Shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), to the pagan Irish during the 5th Century. The tradition of wearing Shamrock on Saint Patrick’s Day can be traced back to the early 1700’s.

Types of Shamrock Plants Grown

Irish research in the late 1980’s highlighted a number of plants that were traditionally considered to be Shamrock. The plant most widely considered to represent Shamrock was Trifolium dubium (the lesser clover, seamair bhuí), other plants that were used as Shamrock included, Trifolium repens (white clover, seamair bhán), Trifolium pratense (red clover, seamair dhearg) and Oxalis acetosella (wood sorrel, seamóg).  The most common form used commercially today is Trifolium dubium.

The plant has become a symbol of Ireland and is recognised as such world-wide. 

Where / by whom it is produced

There are a handful of producers nationwide. And is mainly a cottage industry. One of the larger producers, based in North Dublin, produces the plants in the traditional way, by growing in a standard growing medium.  This company produces small potted plants of shamrock for the home, as well as, bunches of freshly cut shamrock sold in a plastic bags to keep freshness.  The cut plants are worn directly on clothing.   This product can purchased in local supermarkets.

Another company, Irish Plants International, based in Athlone, have taken advantage of a technology developed in UCD.  The Shamrock is produced in small tubes containing a gel based growing medium which are worn directly on clothing.  The use of this production and packaging ensures that the plant will remain fresh while wearing.  The product also lends itself to posting overseas, especially as the threat of contamination due to ‘soil based organisms’ is eliminated.  They are also packaged specifically for posting.  

Where to buy Shamrock

Shamrock is grown commercially to meet the domestic and international demands for wearing a sprig of the three leaved clover during the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.  Shamrock can be purchased in all major shopping outlets as well as corner and local shops. 

How to Grow Your Own Shamrock

It is grown from seed and can be cultivated in pots, open ground or in a special water retaining gel. Water your potted and gel Shamrock to maintain freshness. Sprig Shamrock can be placed in water or moistened and kept in a cool location for best freshness.  The Gel Shamrock can be put into a pot subsequent to wearing and grown as a houseplant.

Whether you gather your own wild Shamrock or buy specially cultivated Shamrock, wear it with pride.