The heart shape symbolizes love. Have you noticed that hearts grab your attention more than any other shape, no matter where you find them? There are a few heart-shaped plants, trees, and flowers in nature that you might like to find this year.
On a sunny February day, the earth warms underneath a blanket of snow—a promise of spring! Look for heart-shaped leaves on the ground in woodlots. These Wild Ginger leaves have remained green since last year and will eventually turn brown as new leaves begin to appear. By late March, a bed of Wild Ginger leaves beckons to be touched. Soft hairs cover the stem and the smooth-edged leaf. Growing in pairs, the leaves hide a burgundy red flower underneath, like parents protecting their child. Back in the 1800s, the rootstock of Wild Ginger leaves was dried, crushed, and used as a flavoring substitute for real ginger, a tropical herb not related to this native species.
In April after warm rains, heart-shaped violet leaves can be seen on the ground. The Common Blue Violet is the most abundant, but violets also come in shades of purple, yellow, and white. Violets were the favorite flower of Napoleon Bonaparte, and he gave a violet bouquet to his wife, Josephine, each year on their anniversary. She kept an extensive garden of violets that became quite well-known throughout France. After Bonaparte was banished from the country, he declared he would return to France with violets in the spring. His followers used the violet as their symbol. Now, the pectin-rich flowers can be eaten as crystallized candy and cake decorations, or made into syrups and marmalades.
As tree buds swell in May, look upward to find unfurling leaves on redbud trees. Redbud leaves have a perfect shape, smooth edges, and noticeable size. The tree’s red flower buds have rose pink petals that appear with the leaves, like paint on the brown branches.
Grape leaves skip happily along their meandering vine by mid-summer. Many love this heart shape, knowing it produces the juicy grapes we need to create jams, jellies, and wine.
People look for patterns to make order in our world. Characteristic shapes help us identify and remember certain plants. When you venture outside, you may love discovering other heart-shaped plants and leaves while enjoying our natural world.
Can you identify these plants and trees by their shape?
Water lilies. These plants float on summer ponds, as their almost heart-shaped leaves offer resting platforms to dragonflies, damselflies, and frogs.
Basswood trees. Native Americans looked along rivers for fallen Basswood trees and their heart-shaped leaves. They stripped off the tree’s inner bark to twist into cordage for tying wigwam frames, basket handles, and for many other uses.
Aster leaves. On a fall color hike through the woods, look for two wildflowers with a heart-shaped pattern. You’ll find Heart-leaved Asters scattered under maple trees—identify them by their light blue, star-shaped flowers. The Large-leaved Aster’s basal leaves spread 3 inches wide. A colony of Large-leaved Asters covers large patches of the forest floor; lavender flowers crown its 1- to 4-foot-tall stem. Bumblebees, honey bees, and butterflies fill up on the flower’s nectar.
Heartwood. The center of a tree is known as the heartwood. In young saplings, the heartwood conducts water and nutrients. As new growth rings are added, the heartwood provides strength for the surrounding sapwood, bark, branches, and leaves. Often, the heartwood is a darker brown color than the sapwood on a cut tree stump.