Nature’s Heart

An Oyster shell worn by time and the ocean into a heart-shape

There will be an abundance of quotes, articles, blog entries, and Facebook posts for Valentine’s Day about love, chocolate, and other related topics. What I find fascinating about Valentine’s day is the remarkable heart-shape, found throughout Nature, and having little resemblance to the human heart.

There is a debated theory that the heart-shaped seeds of a plant called Silphium, found in ancient Cyrene (now Libya) may be the origin of the heart shape representing love. Used both for seasoning and medicinally, the basis of the theory comes from one of the plant’s medicinal uses.  By regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, it was used as a method of birth control. This connection to sexuality is the basis of the theory. This plant is thought to be extinct, though that too is debated.

A compelling theory, but it is not necessary to look to antiquity to find botanical heart shapes with a love connection.  Here is a sampling of plants which are likely growing in your garden, or seen while walking in the northwest woods. These are all good candidates for a heart-shape-as-symbol-of-love theory (some better than others!)

Violets, which even on this cold winter day are lush and green outside my door, have perfect, tiny heart-shaped leaves.  Used for many medicinal purposes, Viola tricolor is listed as a heart tonic in many herbal manuals.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis, a personal favorite, also outside the door, this year the hardy leaves surviving our mild winter.  Among its many culinary and medicinal uses, it is used as a relaxant, calming anxiety, and in treating depression.  Hey, chocolate makes the same claims and it is the “official” food of love!

Lungwort, Pulmonaris officinalis, a common garden flower in shady NW gardens, has beautiful, often speckled, elongated heart-shaped leaves.  It’s medicinal claims, clearing lungs and treating bronchial infections and coughs, may not be romantic, but who can be romantic with a bad cough! It may well have a role in a successful tryst on a wintry day!

False Lily-of-the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, is a NW native wild flower with heart-shaped leaves.  It was used as a wash for sore eyes by native people…let’s see, there might be a connection here between the saying (while looking at one’s sweetheart) “you are a sight for sore eyes.”  Even if not directly love related, it is a lovely heart-shaped plant.

The blooms of Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa, while not as distinctively heart-shaped as domesticate Bleeding Heart flowers, are none the less heart-shaped at the base.  They are the singular host food for the caterpillar of the beautiful Parnassian butterfly. That alone makes it a love plant in my book! And of course the garden variety Bleeding Heart is a beautiful flower that evokes love by both its shape and passionate pink color.

This list could go on and on, other NW species with heart-shaped leaves are Wild Ginger and some Trilliums.  If you are looking for heart-shaped seeds, several mallows, specifically the Velvet-leaf plant, have little hearts.

Hearts are everywhere in Nature. Who has not found a heart-shaped rock? And, this is weird I know, but the rear view of several animals, Mule deer in particular, are a nice heart-shaped patch of white.  Maybe not sexy to you, but I bet it is to an amorous potential sweetheart for the deer!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

nothing says "Be Mine" like Bleeding Hearts & Forget-me-nots!

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