Italian Word of the Day: Trifoglio (clover)

The word for clover in Italian is trifoglio (masculine, plural: trifogli). It comes from the Latin trifolium which is the combination of the prefix tri- (meaning three) and folium (meaning leaf).

cover image with the word “trifoglio” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of cofee

If the word trifoglio sounds familiar, that’s because clover is also known by the alternative common name trefoil in English.

An average of around 1 in 10,000 clovers has four leaves instead of three. This kind of four-leaf clover is called a quadrifoglio in Italian and is considered a lucky charm (portafortuna) in many countries around the world, including Italy.

In even rarer cases, it is possible to find a clover with more than four leaves. In fact, the world record holder, which was discovered in Japan, had a whopping 56 leaves!

Non è un quadrifoglio purtroppo, è solo un trifoglio!

It’s not a four-leaf clover unfortunately, it’s just a three-leaf clover!

hand holding a four-leaf clover
Un quadrifoglio – A four-leaf clover

Fun facts about trifogli:

  • Many species of clover are cultivated as fodder plants for cattle.
  • Clovers have important medicinal properties. The red clover, for example, can be used to treat a wide range of health issues, such as osteoporosis, arthritis, hot flashes, and skin and hair disorders.
  • The flowers (fiori), which tend to be white, pink, red or yellow, are very attractive to bees (api).

Curiosity: how the ‘quadrifoglio’ became the symbol of one of the most loved Italian car brands

The quadrifoglio is the symbol used by the Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo to label its high-performance cars, as well as all its racing cars, past and present. The story began in 1923, when driver Ugo Sivocci drew a cloverleaf on his Alfa Romeo car, and then won the Targa Florio race. From that day forward, the company decided to add the four-leaf clover to all its cars.

There is also a sad story following this event. Sivocci died a few months later in another race. (Legend has it that on the day there wasn’t a quadrifoglio on his car for some reason.) The symbol, initially featured on a white rhombus, was then modified to appear on a white triangle, which is exactly half the rhombus shape, in memory of Sivocci.

You can watch the short video below to find out more about this story. It’s in Italian, but English subtitles are available.

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