11 Juicy Facts About Four-Leaf Clovers

How Much Do You Know About Four-Leafed Clovers?

Lucky clovers are popular good-luck charms. With a little luck, and a lot of patience, you can find them in nearly any meadow or backyard. Clover hunting is easy for young children to do, but challenging enough that older kids and adults won't be bored. When you're done, you can press your four-leaf clovers and use them to remind yourself how lucky you are.

If you want to get fired up before your next clover hunt, check out this playlist of lucky songs.

Here are 11 fascinating facts about lucky clovers. How many of them do you already know?

01
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Many Clover-Like Plants Have Four Leaves, but Aren't Lucky Clovers

Clover Growing Between Stones
This Plant Has Four Leaves, But It's Not a Clover. Carl Underwood / EyeEm / Getty Images

Lucky clovers are a four-leafed variety of white clover, also known as Trifolium repens. "Trifolium" literally means three-leafed, which shows how rare the four-leafed variety is. That means that any other kind of clover, and any plant that always grows with four leaves, are not lucky clovers.

Many other plants, including Pepperwort, Water Clover, and Oxalis (aka, Burgundy Shamrock), are marketed as lucky clovers due to their strong resemblance. Though they are not genuine luck-bringers, if you enjoy them, feel free to use them. They're beautiful plants 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 the same and one that's slightly smaller.

02
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Why Are Four-Leafed Clovers Lucky, Anyway?

Special fortune dice
Why Are Clovers Lucky, Anyway?. Dmitry Mordvintsev / Getty Images

There are many different theories about the origin of the lucky clover superstition. Some legends say that the four leaves stand for faith, hope, love, and luck. Others say that four-leaf clovers granted the power to see fairies, or that they're lucky because St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the trinity 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're impossible to find.

03
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Difference Between Shamrocks and Four-Leafed Clovers

The Dingle Pub; Dingle Town, County Kerry, Ireland
This Pub Correctly Shows a Shamrock as a 3-Leaf Clover. Peter Zoeller / Getty Images

So you've heard about the "luck of the Irish" and seen plenty of leprechauns with shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day, so it's easy to think that shamrocks and four-leaf clovers are the same. However, they are not.

Shamrocks are your standard three-leafed clovers. They're 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 plant with three leaves.

04
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The Fourth Leaf Is Caused by a Genetic Mutation. Probably.

Genetic Modification
A Recessive Gene Causes the Fourth Leaf to Develop. BlackJack3D / Getty Images

Given that white clovers are specifically defined by having three leaves, it's strange that any are lucky. 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, for a stem to have four leaves, it must have inherited the recessive trait from both of its "parents."

05
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But Nailing Down the Exact Genetic Mutation Is Surprisingly Hard

DNA molecule
Clover DNA Is Bizarrely Complicated. Science Photo Library - PASIEKA / Getty Images

Given how much progress humanity has made identifying the effects of genes on our own makeup, you'd think it would be easy to figure out why some white clovers have three leaves and others four. However, 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 hard to narrow down which mutation causes some white clovers to sprout four leaves, scientists are starting to narrow it down. Along the way, their research is yielding interesting information, such as what encourages more four-leafed mutations to occur.

06
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Some (Four-Leafed Clovers) Like It Hot

Sunbathing on the Beach
Who Would Expect Four-Leafed Clovers to Have Weather Preferences?. levente bodo / Getty Images

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.

07
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And They're Pretty Social, Too

Group of Lucky Clovers
Lucky Clovers Tend to Group Together. SimplyMui Photography / Getty Images

While you're anthropomorphizing lucky clover by making them lucky, you can also remind yourself 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.

08
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The Odds of Finding a Four-Leafed Clover Are Long... But Not Too Long

Clover flowers
The Odds of Finding a Four-Leaf Clover Are Pretty Good in a Field Like This. sot / Getty Images

So what are your odds of "looking over a four-leafed clover," as the song goes? Approximately one in 10,000 clover stems will have a four-leafed mutation.

Now, that might sound daunting, but according to the Minitab Blog, it's actually not that much. If you are in a field full of clover, you can find that many plants in a three-by-four-foot area. So you don't need a crazy number of plants to have good odds of finding lucky clovers.

09
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The Scientifically-Proven Way to Find More Four-Leafed Clovers

Single Four Leaf Clover
Scanning Can Help You Find Lucky Clovers Faster. Amana Images Inc / Getty Images

If you try to check 10,000 individual leaves to see if one of them is a lucky clover, you'll waste a lot of time and energy. Luckily, there's a better way.

Let your eyes scan 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 stands out 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 different angle gives you a better perspective.

10
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Lucky Clovers Can Have More than Four Leaves!

5-Leafed Clover
Clovers with Even More than Four Leaves. Yagi Studio / Getty Images

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!

11
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Tempted to Grow Your Own Lucky Clovers?

Potted Four Clover Plant
Can You Grow Your Own Lucky Clovers?. Takuya Uroku (voile)/ANYONE / Getty Images

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're paying for is a batch of plain white clover seeds.

The plants that 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 can achieve the same goal and save some money while you're at it by buying regular clover seeds not marketed to luck-seekers.