Four-leaf white clover (Trifolium repens)

The four-leaf clover is a rare variation of the common three-leaf clover. According to traditional sayings, such clovers bring good luck,[1] although it is not clear when or how this idea began. One early mention of "Fower-leafed or purple grasse" is from 1640 and simply says that it was kept in gardens because it was "good for the purples in children or others".[2]


A 2017 survey of approximately 5.7 million clovers in central Europe found the frequency to be about 5000 to 1 (one four-leaf clover for every ~5000 normal three-leaf clovers), twice the commonly stated probability of 10,000 to 1. According to this survey, the frequency of a five-leaf clover is ~24,400 to 1, and of a six-leaf clover is ~312,500 to 1.[3]

Clovers can have more than four leaves. Five-leaf clovers are less commonly found naturally than four-leaf clovers;[4][5] however, they too have been successfully cultivated.[6] Some four-leaf clover collectors, particularly in Ireland, regard the five-leaf clover, known as a rose clover, as a particular prize.[7] The most leaves ever found on a single clover stem (Trifolium repens L.) is 63 and was discovered by Yoshiharu Watanabe of Nasushiobara, Japan, on 2 August 2023.[8][9] Collectors have reached records as high as 160,000 four-leaf clovers in a lifetime.[10] The world record for number of four-leaf clovers collected in one hour is 166, set by American Katie Borka on 23 June 2018.[11]


A four-leaf clover amongst others with three leaves

It is debated whether the fourth leaf is caused genetically or environmentally. Its relative rarity (1 in 5,000 clovers[3]) suggests a possible recessive gene appearing at a low frequency. Alternatively, four-leaf clovers could be caused by somatic mutation or a developmental error of environmental causes. They could also be caused by the interaction of several genes that happen to segregate in the individual plant. It is possible all four explanations could apply to individual cases. This means that multiple four-leaf clovers could be found in the same cloverplant.[12]

Researchers from the University of Georgia have reported finding the gene that turns ordinary three-leaf clovers into the coveted four-leaf types. Masked by the three-leaf gene and strongly influenced by environmental conditions, molecular markers now make it possible to detect the presence of the gene for four-leaves and for breeders to work with it. The results of the study, which also located two other leaf traits in the white-clover genome, were reported in the July/August 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America.[13]

The other leaf traits, the red fleck mark and red midrib, a herringbone pattern that streaks down the center of each leaflet in a bold red color, were mapped to nearby locations, resolving a century-old question as to whether these leaf traits were controlled by one gene or two separate genes. White clover has many genes that affect leaf color and shape, and the three in the study were very rare. These traits can be quite attractive, particularly if combined with others, and can turn clover into an ornamental plant for use in flower beds.[14]

There are reports of farms in the US which specialize in four-leaf clovers, producing as many as 10,000 a day (to be sealed in plastic as "lucky charms") by introducing a genetically engineered ingredient to the plants to encourage the aberration (there are, however, widely available cultivars that regularly produce leaves with multiple leaflets – see below).[15]

Multi-leaved cultivars

A five-leaf Trifolium repens

There are some cultivars of white clover (Trifolium repens) which regularly produce more than three leaflets, including purple-leaved T. repens "Purpurascens Quadrifolium" and green-leaved T. repens "Quadrifolium".[16] Some clovers have more spade-shaped leaves, rather than the usual rounded ones. This may be a genetic mutation. Some genetic mutations in clovers include spade-like shaped leaves or a dotted rusty color on the leaves. Trifolium repens "Good Luck" is a cultivar which has three, four, or five green, dark-centered leaflets per leaf.[17]

Other species

Other plants may be mistaken for, or misleadingly sold as, "four-leaf clovers"; for example, Oxalis tetraphylla is a species of wood sorrel with leaves resembling a four-leaf clover.[18][19] Other species that have been sold as "four-leaf clovers" include Marsilea quadrifolia.[20][21]

As a good luck charm

A description from 1869 says that four-leaf clovers were "gathered at night-time during the full moon by sorceresses, who mixed it with vervain and other ingredients, while young girls in search of a token of perfect happiness made quest of the plant by day."[22] In an 1877 letter to St. Nicholas Magazine, an 11-year-old girl wrote, "Did the fairies ever whisper in your ear, that a four-leaf clover brought good luck to the finder?"[23]

Symbolic usage

Four-leaf clover pictured in the coat of arms of Lääne-Nigula Parish
The four-leaf clover is used as a symbol by multiple agrarian political parties in Northern and Eastern Europe.


Some folk traditions assign a different attribute to each leaf of a clover. The leaves have been used by Christians to represent hope, faith, love and luck.[34] Others say that four-leaf clovers granted the power to see fairies.[35][36]

See also


  1. ^ Harry Oliver (2010). Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers: The Origins of Old Wives' Tales and Superstitions in Our Everyday Lives (reprint ed.). Penguin. ISBN 9781101442814.
  2. ^ Parkinson J. 1640. Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants or An Herball of Large Extent. Tho. Cotes. Publisher, London, Pp 1110-1112.
  3. ^ a b Sperling, Uli (24 July 2017). "How rare are four-leaf clovers really?". Share the Luck. Archived from the original on 5 December 2020.
  4. ^ Hershey, David (16 March 2000). "Re: how common is a five leaf clover?". MadSci Network.
  5. ^ "Facts About Five-leaf Clovers". Clovers Online. Clover Specialty Company. 2004. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008.
  6. ^ "Five-leaf clover". Mt. Vernon Register-News. 14 October 2008. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012.
  7. ^ Mabey, Richard, Flora Britannica, p. 225 (citing Edward and Helene Wenis of Leonia, New Jersey, U.S., writing in BSBI News, 56, 1990)
  8. ^ "Most leaves on a clover". Guinness World Records. 10 May 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2011.
  9. ^ "WEEK IN PHOTOS: Unlucky Kangaroo, 56-Leaf Clover, More". National Geographic. 12 May 2009. Archived from the original on 18 May 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  10. ^ George, Jason (17 March 2008). "160,000? That's a lot of luck". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  11. ^ Ross, Hailey (25 June 2018). "Spotsylvania girl charms her way into Guinness Book of World Records by finding 166 four-leaf clovers". The Free Lance-Star.
  12. ^ Marcel Cleene, Marie Claire Lejeune (2002). Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe: Herbs. Vol. 2. Man & Culture.
  13. ^ Tashiro, R.M., et al. Leaf Trait Coloration in White Clover and Molecular Mapping of the Red Midrib and Leaflet Number Traits. Crop Science 7 June 2010.
  14. ^ [1] The Georgia White Clover Ornamental Collection.
  15. ^ Mabey, Richard, Ibid, p. 225
  16. ^ Lord, Tony (ed), RHS Plant Finder 2006–2007, (20th edition), Dorling Kindersley, London, 2006, p. 743. ISBN 1-4053-1455-9
  17. ^ Archived 2008-10-11 at the Wayback Machine (photo)
  18. ^ The Four Leaf Clover Kit (Mega Mini Kits) (Paperback). Amazon review. 12 September 2006.
  19. ^ Good Luck Plant Kit Archived 2008-12-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  20. ^ All About Shamrocks Four-Leaf Clovers Archived 2008-12-14 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 7 December 2008.
  21. ^ Keenan, Susan M. The Four Leaf Clover Archived 2009-01-30 at the Wayback Machine. 11 March 2008.
  22. ^ Masters MT. 1869. Vegetable Teratology, An Account of the Principal Deviations from the Usual Construction of Plants. Robert Hardwicke Publisher, London, P 356.
  23. ^ Child, Madge. 1877. In a letter titled "Four-Leaved Clovers," (St. Nicholas; an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks), Volume 4, pp. 634-5, in the subsection of letters called "Jack-in-the-Pulpit", July 1877.
  24. ^ Defendi, Laura (9 November 2017). "Ugo Sivocci and the lucky four-leaf clover – Cozzi Brothers Museum". eNews Fratelli Cozzi Museum. Retrieved 27 April 2024.
  25. ^ "La Leggenda del Quadrifoglio Verde – La storia in immagini di Ugo Sivocci". (in Italian). 2022. Retrieved 27 April 2024.
  26. ^ "The bleak story of the most mythical clover". Euromarque. 2023. Retrieved 27 April 2024.
  27. ^ "The Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN. C42 is born". Alfa Romeo. 2022. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  28. ^ "SpaceX's 3rd Space Station Resupply Flight Gets 3-Sided Mission Patch". Retrieved 23 February 2015
  29. ^ "Clover Park School District Homepage".
  30. ^ "Clover Pub - European Pub".
  31. ^ "Celtic Computers | Laptop & PC Computer Repair".
  32. ^ "Elsie Carper Collection on Extension Service, Home Economics, and 4-H". Retrieved 11 March 2016
  33. ^ "How Van Cleef & Arpels Got Its Four-Leaf Clover | Barnebys Magazine". 14 September 2022. Retrieved 9 January 2024.
  34. ^ Webster, Richard (2008). The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 61. ISBN 9780738725611. Retrieved 18 July 2022.
  35. ^ Grauschopf, Sandra (20 November 2019). "11 Juicy Facts About Four-Leaf Clovers". LiveAbout. Archived from the original on 27 April 2024. Retrieved 27 April 2024. Updated on 30 August 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  36. ^ "The real 'luck' of clovers". John Muir Trust. 14 March 2024. Retrieved 27 April 2024.