01Many Clover-Like Plants Have Four Leaves, but Aren't Lucky Clovers
Lucky clovers are a four-leafed variety of white clover, also known as Trifolium repens. "Trifolium" literally means three-leafed, so any plants that always grow with four leaves are not lucky clovers.
Many other plants, including Pepperwort, Water Clover, and Oxalis, are marketed as lucky clovers, due to their strong resemblance. Though they are not genuine luck-bringers, they may be absolutely beautiful and a pleasure to have around!
One way to be sure that you have a true four-leafed clover is to check if all of the leaves are the same size. If so, you're out of luck. True lucky clovers have three leaves that are all the same size, and one that's slightly smaller.
02Why Are Four-Leafed Clovers Lucky, Anyway?
There are many different theories about the origin of the lucky clover superstition. Some legends say that the four leaves are supposed to stand for faith, hope, love, and luck. Others say that four-leaf clovers granted the power to see fairies, or that they are related to St. Patrick's use of the shamrock to explain Christianity to the Irish.
Of course, it's also possible that four-leafed clovers are lucky simply because they are rare enough to be unusual, but not so rare that they are hardly ever found.
03Shamrocks Are Not Four-Leafed Clovers
So we all know about the "luck of the Irish," and we've seen plenty of leprechauns with shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. It's easy to get confused, but shamrocks are not the same as lucky four-leaf clovers.
Shamrocks are your standard three-leafed clovers. They are associated with Ireland due to the legend that St. Patrick used shamrocks to illustrate how God could be both one entity and three at the same time.
Some people say that the four-leafed clover adds God's grace to the metaphor of the Holy Trinity. But no matter what, a shamrock only properly refers to a clover with three leaves.
04The Fourth Leaf Is Caused by a Genetic Mutation. Probably.
Why do some clovers have four leaves, anyway?
Like blond hair, blue eyes, and straight hair in humans, the four-leafed clover is a recessive trait in the white clover plant. That means that in order for a stem to have four leaves, it must have inherited the recessive trait from both of its "parents."
You can read more about dominant and recessive genes in humans from Stanford at The Tech Museum.
05But Nailing Down the Exact Genetic Mutation Is Surprisingly Hard
So given how much progress humanity has made identifying the effects of genes on our own makeup, you'd think it would be an easy thing to figure out why some white clovers have three leaves and others four. But actually, it's surprisingly difficult.
Wired has a fascinating article about why the genetic makeup of clover is so weird.
To start with, clover has twice as many chromosomes as humans and most other creatures. As Wired puts it:
"...white clover has double the amount of chromosomes as humans, mangoes, pill bugs, and most other organisms... each pair of the white clover’s chromosomes comes from a different species."
While it's very hard to narrow down exactly which gene mutation causes some white clovers to sprout four leaves, scientists are starting to narrow it down. And their research is telling us interesting information, such as what encourages more four-leafed mutations to occur.
06Some (Four-Leafed Clovers) Like It Hot
One of the things that scientists have discovered by studying the gene mutation that causes clovers to grow four leaves is that warm weather tends to encourage the lucky four-leaf mutation.
If you're hoping to find yourself a lucky charm, searching in summertime or in warm climates can improve your odds.
07And They're Pretty Social, Too
While we're anthropomorphizing lucky clover, we can also remind ourselves that they like to hang out with their friends. In other words, if you find one four-leaf clover, immediately look around for more.
The reason isn't actually because clover is a social plant, but because if one plant has the lucky mutation, more of its stems might bear four leaves.
So if you're searching for clovers, multiply your luck by looking more intensely anywhere you find a single four-leafed clover.
08The Odds of Finding a Four-Leafed Clover Are Long... But Not Too Long
So what are your odds of looking over a four-leafed clover? Approximately one in 10,000 clover stems will have a four-leafed mutation.
Now that might sound daunting, but according to the Minitab Blog, you can find that many clover plants in a rectangular area covering approximately three-by-four feet. So you don't need to cover a massive amount of area to find your lucky clovers.
09The Scientifically-Proven Way to Find More Four-Leafed Clovers
If you try to check 10,000 individual leaves to see if one of them is a lucky clover, you're going to waste a lot of time and energy. Luckily, there's a better way.
Let your eyes scan over a limited area (an area about the size of an office desk works well, according to Scientific American). Don't try to look for individual leaves, just try to see if something pops out at you as looking a little bit different from the surrounding clover.
If that doesn't work for you right away, try using your shoe to gently brush over the clover, and see if turning the plants to a slightly different angle gives you a better perspective.
10Lucky Clovers Can Have More than Four Leaves!
The mutation that causes more leaves to grow in some white clover plants most commonly results in four-leaf clovers. But sometimes, you end up with even more leaves, which is supposed to be even luckier.
For example, six-leafed clovers are supposed to bring faith, hope, love, extra luck, money, and good fortune.
But even six leaves is just a start. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the white clover with the most leaves ever recorded was found by Shigeo Obara of Japan. In 2009, Shigeo Obara found a single white clover with a whopping 56 leaflets!
11Tempted to Grow Your Own Lucky Clovers?
If you think that cultivating lucky clovers would be easier than finding them in a field, wait a second. Although there are many lucky clover kits available to buy, in most (or all) cases, all you are paying for is is a batch of plain white clover seeds.
The plants that will grow from those seeds may or may not have the recessive gene that will result in four-leafed clovers. So while it might be fun to give it a try (and you may well end up with the lucky clovers you desire), you should be aware that you might also end up with a standard white clover in a pot.
You might be able to achieve the same goal and save some money while you're at it by buying regular clover seeds not marketed to luck seekers.
11 Juicy Four-Leaf Clover Facts
How Well Do You Know Four-Leafed Clovers?
Lucky clovers are among the most popular good-luck charms. With a little luck, you can find them in nearly any meadow or backyard. It's easy enough for kids to do, but challenging enough that older children and adults won't be bored. And when you're done, you can press your four-leaf clovers and use them to remind yourself how lucky you are.
Here are 11 fascinating facts about lucky clovers. How many of them do you already know?