by Mason Heberling
What is a shamrock? There is no overwhelming scientific consensus on which species is the well-known Irish national emblem. There was survey of Irish botanists in the early 1890s asking which species was the true shamrock. A similar survey was repeated in 1988. The results suggest the shamrock is either Trifolium dubium (aka lesser trefoil) or Trifolium repens (aka white clover).
The plants commonly sold around St. Patrick’s Day as shamrocks or four-leaf clovers are in the plant genus Oxalis (wood sorrel), which belong to different plant family than true clovers.
Mason Heberling is a postdoctoral research associate at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences working with museum collections.