Why Are Four-Leaf Clovers Lucky—And What Should You Do If You Find One?

We know they're lucky and hard to find, but what do they mean?

In a time when everyone could use a little extra luck, four-leaf clovers may come in handy—but there's one thing to know before you run out onto your lawn in search of a lucky charm, especially in March: Shamrocks and four-leaf clovers are not the same thing, and four-leaf clovers aren't actually a traditional Irish symbol for St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick is believed to have used a traditional shamrock with three leaves to represent the holy trinity, so don't be surprised if your four-leaf clover tattoo gets you a weird look if you rock it on the Emerald Isle.

That said, if three-leaf clovers are considered a religious symbol of holiness, why are four-leaf clovers lucky and what is their meaning? We've got you covered!

Related: 50 Best St. Patrick's Day Wishes To Toast Your Friends and Family

Why are four-leaf clovers lucky?

Four-leaf clovers are considered lucky for their rarity. In the Middle Ages, it was believed by some Celtic groups that wielding a four-leaf clover would help you see fairies, as well as to ward off evil spirits and grant the holder good luck.

It's unclear exactly when the four-leaf clover tradition began, but we do know one of the first times it was mentioned in writing that hasn't been lost in antiquity: John Melton wrote in the 1600s, "If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing."

Related: Wait, There’s No Such Thing as a Leprechaun...Is There?

What is the four-leaf clover mean? What does a four-leaf clover symbolize?

Four-leaf clovers, aside from being considered good luck, are said to be symbols of faith, love, hope and good fortune. Unlike shamrocks, which have three leaves, four-leaf clovers aren't considered religious symbols, especially not in Ireland.

Related: 17 St. Patrick’s Day Traditions to Help You Celebrate Irish Pride

How rare is a four-leaf clover?

Estimates of the occurrence of four-leaf clovers vary, ranging from one in 100 to one in 10,000. That being said, one particular plant that looks a lot like clover, the iron cross (Oxalis deppei), always has four leaves. However, it isn't an actual clover plant.

Wayne Parrott, who studies crop genetics at the University of Georgia, explained to Wired that a four-leaf clover is"like having a cat with an extra claw. We know it has a genetic basis, and a mutation that happens at a slow but regular frequency." He added, "We know more or less where it is on the chromosome," but the exact reason it exists is still elusive.

What should I do if I find a four-leaf clover?

The first thing to do if you find a four-leaf clover is to look for more of them! Statistically, if a clover plant produces one four-leaf clover, it's likely to produce more of them than normal plants would. After that, it's up to you—some people would want to preserve it in a frame (find out how here), and others may want to have it pressed or laminated. Note that some methods of preserving your four-leaf clover may fade its green color.

How can you tell if a four-leaf clover is real?

If you need help determining whether your four-leaf clover is real, check out this video! A good tell is if the four-leaf clover comes from a plant with an identifying clover flower, which you can see below. You can get more guidelines here to determine whether your four-leaf clover is real.

Related: 30 St. Patrick’s Day Memes to Crack You Up and Celebrate the Luck of the Irish

Has anyone found a four-leaf clover?

For as rare as they are, plenty of people have indeed found four-leaf clovers. In fact, one lucky guy has a collection of a whopping 160,000 four-leaf clovers!

Next, check out these Irish blessings and sayings for St. Patrick's Day.