Shamrock shortage in Ireland sparks St. Pat's fears

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A severe shamrock shortage is threatening St. Patrick's Day in Ireland and the “wearing of the green," according to leading botanist Dr. Declan Doogue of the Royal Irish Academy.

The shamrock was “hit hard” by the severe winter weather and “won’t be easily found” this week, said Doogue, who also stated the national plant was under threat because of modern farming methods.

In its place, bogus shamrock plants are being used, he said, stating that he hoped the shamrock that President Obama would receive from Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen would be the real thing.

Doogue told the Irish Times that the shamrock was “only getting going” because, like other plants, its growing season had been “delayed by frost damage.”

Doogue also stated that modern farming methods and the loss of hay meadows had now “engulfed” the shamrock' natural territory, which was “a disaster.”

Doogue stated there were various bogus shamrock plants, but the real one was the Trifolium dubium (lesser trefoil), a type of clover found in “unimproved grassland” of which there is hardly any left in Ireland.

Doogue said modern farming methods and the loss of traditional hay meadows had “engulfed” the national plant’s territory, which was “a disaster from a wildlife point of view.”

Despite the loss of its habitat, he said the shamrock was resilient in parts of Ireland “in short grass and on waysides, even in some parts of Dublin.”  It does best, he added, “in a sunny, free-draining site.”

Doogue stated that the bogus plant was actually growing in  “lush grasslands” and was Trifolium repens (white clover). He stated that this was probably what most people would wear on Wednesday due to the difficulty in finding the real thing.

Another expert, Prof John Parnell, curator of the herbarium at Trinity College Dublin, said there was another bogus plant called Medicago lupulina (black medic), which has three green leaves but is not a clover, and was also “often sold and worn as shamrock.”

But the botanists sadly confirmed that shamrock was not “remotely exclusively Irish,” and can be found in Britain and throughout northwest Europe.

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