How Nature Inspired the Symbol of Love

From the seeds of the silphium plant, to ancient coins and candy hearts--the symbol of love has come a long way.

Valentine's Day is a day full of love and heart--and heart shapes. From boxes of chocolate, candy hearts, and balloons, to the '<3' in text-messages and hand-drawn hearts on love letters, that unique heart symbol has special meaning to the loving and loved alike. For anyone who has ever seen a real heart, though, the symbol is clearly not anatomically accurate.

So, where did that heart symbol, that has come to represent 'love' on this and every other day of the year, come from? Well, the answer may surprise you--but like so many icons in our daily life--it too was inspired by nature.The heart symbol has been used to represent love even since ancient times, so there are a number of theories as to the origin of the shape we use today. Some say that the icon resembles a cow's heart, which wasn't such an uncommon sight in the butcher-shops of yesteryear, while others note its similarity to a buttocks, or, ahem, an important part of a male's anatomy.

Still, some of the earliest depictions of the ♥ we use today are found on ancient coins, depicting the seed of the silphium plant--which was used as a herbal contraceptive, according to Slate. One look at the seed symbol, and its practicality amongst lovers in years past, and it seems the most likely candidate.

While the seeds may be the inspiration for the heart symbol, seen so much on Valentine's Day, it's certainly not the only thing in nature that resembles it. Indeed, the shape appears all throughout the biological and geological world--earning them a special place in our minds, and yes, our hearts.

The shape not so uncommonly seen in geological formations, like this one.
This cow, with a heart-shaped spot on his head, won the hearts of many with this popular photo.
Flowers, also representative of our most loving affections, can sometimes be heart-shaped too.

Even insects that might otherwise seem icky to some are almost charming when so adorned with a heart-shape by nature.

More on Valentine's Day
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Mating For Life, Other Species Are Better At It
Valentine's Day Gifts: Green Love for Everyone

Tags: Biodiversity | Evolution

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