“Green” holiday means spring is just around the corner
March – with its warm, sunny spells and continuing gray, wintry, weather – begins the final countdown to spring. The first day of spring will fall on Wednesday, March 20 this year, but three days prior to that anxiously-awaited date, we will celebrate a uniquely “green” holiday.
That holiday is St. Patrick’s Day which falls on March 17.
Symbolic of this holiday is the perky, sprightly-green shamrock. Although not the official emblem of Ireland, the shamrock is without doubt symbolic of the country and its culture. The shamrock (or white clover Trifolium repens) grows in abundance over the fields and byways of Ireland and has mystical and practical connections with Irish history.
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland when he traveled there as a missionary in 432 AD.
St. Patrick is also said to have driven all the snakes out of the country and then filled the land with shamrock fields to prevent the snakes from ever returning. Though deemed a legend, it is true that there are no snakes in the wild in Ireland and, wherever shamrocks grow, snakes stay away. Another tale of St. Patrick is that wherever he preached in the land, shamrocks would spring up and grow.
But the little, green, three-leafed beauty was also important in Irish history before St. Patrick arrived. Early religious practices in the land revered the number three, so the three-leafed shamrock or “Seamrog,” as it was originally called, was a significantly, important plant. It was also considered to have magical properties and when worn or carried the shamrock was believed to be able to protect the bearer from evil or harm. The wearing of the shamrock or including it in bridal bouquets or bouquets brought into the home was very common in Ireland.
Used in the ancient rituals and practices of these early religious groups, the symbol of “the three” has continued in the culture of the country today. Representations of the shamrock can be found everywhere in Ireland today, from the logo of Aer Lingus, the official airline of the country, to decorative symbols on public buildings, churches, places of business, and homes. Irish postage stamps, coins, books, etc. also may bear the imprint of the shamrock and, throughout the land, the shamrock has become an emblem of Irish spirit and pride.
Though the original shamrock is considered to be the white clover, the red clover (Trifolium pretense) and the wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) are also considered to be shamrocks. The oxalis or “Flowering Shamrock” is the more decorative of the shamrock varieties and comes in a variety of bloom and foliage colors.
It makes a lovely house or garden plant. In the garden it is well-suited to container arrangements and is very easy to care for (see www. willowcreekgardens/oxalis for more information and pictures).
The shamrock has commonly been considered a “good luck” plant and they are on display now at many of our local garden and home centers.