Flora, Fauna, and Fortune: Looking for Luck in Nature

For centuries, people have looked to nature for symbols of good fortune. Now the Blues are on the brink of making history, and fans across St. Louis are doing whatever they can to bring a little luck our way. It’s in honor of these noble efforts that we offer this brief history of a few of nature’s best good luck charms.

Shamrock

“Shamrock” can refer to a number of different plant species. Here in Missouri, the white clover or Trifolium repens is so common that you probably walk on it every time you cross a field. White clover is a naturally short plant, so it does better in landscaped areas where the grass is kept short and won’t out-compete it. The plant has been in the United States for a long time now, but it is originally native to Europe, and it’s thanks to the Irish that this common groundcover is probably the most famous lucky plant.

A patch of white clover, a common groundcover with an uncommon significance. Photo “White clover in the lawn P1550624”by tomylees is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock as a religious symbol, pointing out that it takes three leaves to make up the whole of the plant just as God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost make up the Holy Trinity in Christianity. It is thought that the four-leafed clover might have come to be considered especially lucky because its extra leaf can be seen as God’s grace.

What’s lesser known than this legend of St. Patrick and his clover is that the shamrock was important to the Druids long before Christianity swept through Ireland. The number three was significant to them, too, as their beliefs also recognized several divine trinities. They believed that carrying a shamrock would enable them to see spirits, fairies, and sprites and thus be able to avoid any supernatural evildoers that might come their way. It is possible that St. Patrick knew of this tradition and re-appropriated the symbol as an educational tool that would already have been familiar to the pagan Irish.

An eastern cottontail sits among white clover at Shaw Nature Reserve. Photo by Bailie Fischer.

A shamrock appears in the rafters of the Enterprise Center as well. It hangs there in remembrance of longtime Blues sportscaster Dan Kelly, who passed away in 1989 and is honored by the shamrock in lieu of a jersey number. Here’s hoping that the shamrock will bring a little extra luck to the Blues!

Even beyond its supernatural connotations, white clover is a good plant to have around. Its leaves make good grazing for herbivores, and its flowers are a favorite of pollinators. Clover is often used in honey production.

Jade Plant

Jade plant, or Crassula ovata, is a popular houseplant even for those who might be unaware of its association with good fortune. Its attractive branching, pretty round leaves, and hardiness make it a great pick for beginners and experts alike. It is native to southern Africa and can bloom with small pink or white flowers.

Jade plant is popularly used in feng shui  because it is thought to attract wealth, luck, and friendship to the space that it inhabits. Its round leaves resemble coins, and their vibrant green color represents wealth. Traditionally, it is placed near by the entrance of a business to attract customers and prosperity.

If a jade plant flowers, it is said to be a sign that good luck is coming to its caretaker. To reach its full potential, a jade plant needs full sun, well-drained soil, and water only when the soil is dry.

Lily of the Valley

The Lily of the valley, or Convallaria majalis, is a delicate, fragrant white flower that is said to bring good luck to those who receive it. According to Christian tradition, the flowers are said to have sprung from the ground where Mary’s tears fell when Christ was crucified and from the spot where Eve cried when she was banished from the Garden of Eden.

The flowers bloom right around the beginning of May, and it is a tradition in France to gift them to a loved one on May 1st each year. This tradition started with King Charles IX of France, who was presented with the Lily of the valley on May 1st, 1561 as a token of luck. He continued the tradition by presenting these flowers to all the women in his court every year thereafter. Their lucky connotations make them a popular choice in Europe for life events like birthdays or weddings, where the recipient is believed to receive a blessing from the presence of these special flowers.

Lily of the valley is a fragrant, delicate flower that blooms in early May. Photo “Lily of the valley”by Karen Maraj is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Lily of the valley is a perennial plant that will spread like wildfire if left unchecked. It thrives when it is kept moist and planted in the shade. The plant is poisonous to consume and can be fatal to pets, small children, and even adults if consumed in large quantities.

Rabbits

In the gardening world, rabbits can be a serious pest, but they’re also a good luck charm. And at Shaw Nature Reserve where predatory mammals are more common (and where the rabbits are away from home gardens), the rabbits are a welcome and necessary part of the food chain.

The Celts were one of the first to associate the rabbit with good luck. They believed that since the rabbit lived underground, it had the ability to communicate with the spirits of the underworld. Since they multiply so quickly, rabbits have also been seen as a symbol of prosperity and wealth. It is a well-known superstition that carrying a rabbit’s foot will bring you good luck, and this practice was especially popular among gamblers due in part to the rabbit’s association with affluence.

The eastern cottontail is by far the most common rabbit in Missouri. They are born in huge numbers throughout the spring and summer, but very few survive until the following spring to breed again.

An eastern cottontail munches away in a garden bed. Rabbits can be gardening pests, but they are considered lucky animals. Photo by Claire Cohen.

Crickets

Crickets are a symbol of good luck in a number of cultures. They have often been depicted as guardian angel figures in stories like Pinocchio, The Cricket on the Hearth, and Disney’s Mulan. The cricket is especially popular in China where it is sometimes kept as a pet and has been for centuries.

If a cricket visits your home, it is considered a very good omen. Accordingly, it is also considered very bad luck to kill a cricket, even if you kill it by mistake. If you find a dead cricket in your home, you are supposed to remove it immediately to keep negative energy and bad luck away from your household.

Crickets are very common in Missouri, as anyone who has heard their evening song will know. They are soft-bodied and rather defenseless, which partly why they are nocturnal creatures that come out only under the cover of night.

Butterflies

It’s a popular belief that if a butterfly lands on you, it is a sign of good luck, and a trip to the Butterfly House will certainly increase your chances! In the case of a butterfly landing, the color of the butterfly determines the meaning of the omen. As St. Louis eyes the Stanley Cup, one color in particular comes to mind: blue.

So what does it mean if a blue butterfly lands on you? A visit from a blue butterfly means that the butterfly will grant you one wish. If you’re visited by a blue butterfly this weekend, don’t miss your chance! Make a wish for the Blues. Sure, there’s no science to back it up, but we’re willing to entertain folklore and superstitions this time. It can’t hurt, right?

Kristina Schall DeYong
Digital Media Specialist

Feature photo by Sundos Schneider

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