Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

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Botanical Symbols of the Season – Part III December 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:00 am
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Clover (Trifolium repens L.)

In Irish tradition, St. Patrick used the shamrock or three-leaf clover as a symbol to teach about the Holy Trinity: one leaf for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. Supposedly, when a shamrock is found with the fourth leaf, it represents God’s grace. It was white clover (Trifolium repens L.) that was used during this time. Another story claims that during a sermon, St. Patrick asked the crowd how many leaves the clover had. When they replied it has three but can also be one, St. Patrick’s response was that it is also that way with God (the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost). Since this story was written more than one thousand years after the time of St. Patrick, however, it is often considered a legend.

In Florida, white clover is not widely used in residential landscapes, because it is a cool-season legume and acts like an annual plant. It is commonly used in pasture applications because of its high protein content and digestibility for cows, compared to grass alone. If you like the looks of the characteristic trifoliate leaf, however, consider oxalis for the home landscape. This shamrock substitute is found in many nurseries and garden centers as either an annual or perennial.

Commonly known as wood sorrel or false shamrock, Oxalis triangularis subspecies papilionacea, is endemic to Brazil and can be grown outdoors from zones 8 – 11. Prolonged days over 85 degrees will cause this plant to look “tired” but once the daytime temperatures drop a bit, the show is spectacular! The leaves are a deep purple-red color with light pink to white flowers that create a wonderful contrast.


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