Among the first things to billow out of the ground at the beginning of Camp Salmen’s spring are large, luxuriant clouds of emerald green clover. Anyone who remembers how cool and bountiful it feels to their bare feet just wants to get down and wallow in it. Only a sense of propriety may hold them back.
To be less poetic, clover actually grows in mats. The tri-leaves are on stalks sprouting from a web of spreading, horizontal, underground roots called rhizomes. Clovers are a vital link in the nitrogen cycle of life on the planet. They live with symbiotic bacteria on the microscopic root hairs of their root nodes that take this inert gas and convert it into a form more useful to plants and leave it in the soil in a process called nitrogen fixation. This naturally preps the ground for the growing season and is smarter and cheaper than fertilizer.
If you examine our springtime groundcover you’ll see there are several types of clover here, all in the Trifolium family. White Clover is largest, with faint white chevrons on each of its three leaves and spherical white flowers popular with bees. Yellow or Subterranean Clover is slightly smaller and has small yellow flowers. These two apparently originated in Europe, North Africa and west Asia and were brought here to act as agricultural cover crops and forage for livestock and deer. They’ve since gotten away and have spread everywhere on this continent. Yes, some Americans have actually been known to eat clover by spreading in on their salads. It’s high in proteins, making it a good survival food but is a little rough on the digestion. Therefore, it is not recommended that someone get down and their knees and graze it directly off the ground but boil it in water a little first.
For those of you who have “looked over a four-leaf clover that you overlooked before” here’s the rub: the reason for this is you have only a one in 10,000 chance of finding a clover with this mutation because that’s how often they occur in a patch of clover. You can increase your odds by intensely staring at the patch for an interminable time but that, unfortunately, is supposed to neutralize the luck you’d be getting if you just looked down and found it. Even more rare are five-leaf clovers and clover has been found with even more leaves but looking for these would really be pressing your luck. The botanists haven’t made up their minds if genetics, environment, or a combination of the two, causes this phenomenon, but the most viable theory is that it’s because of leprechauns.