"The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of."
— Blaise Pascal, "Pensées," 1670
Before you buy a bouquet of red or pink roses on Valentine’s Day, you should know that for centuries the preferred flower for sweethearts was the viola, or violet, a name derived from the Greek word io (as in iodine) for the flower’s use as a purple dye.
Often accompanying a love letter or poem, violets were exchanged as a symbol of romantic love until the 1930s. American poet Phoebe Fulkerson Harris captured this tradition in a verse she wrote in 1900: “And on the violet’s velvet leaves he pierced these lines divine … They simply said, ‘I love you, and I’m your Valentine.”
Violets are especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day, because of their pretty, heart-shaped foliage. In fact, there are many plants with cordate leaves that beautifully say, “I love you” on Valentine’s Day. Here are my top 10 picks for plants with a lot of heart:
1. Viola ‘Heartthrob’ — A quick-spreading perennial, this cultivar has beautiful, deep-green leaves with a burgundy center. The fragrant lavender flower is long lasting. The plant attracts butterflies and is deer-resistant. It grows well as a groundcover in the shade garden, and can be grown as a houseplant.
2. Anthurium — This tropical perennial is a popular houseplant with deep green, glossy leaves. The large red or pink heart-shaped “flower” is actually a modified leaf, called a spathe. It’s one of several plants listed in the NASA Clean Air Study (1989) as capable of removing toxins from the air.
3. Calla lily ‘Majestic Red’ — This bulb plant isn’t a lily at all, but its narrow, glossy leaves that are dark green with white speckles are certainly grand. The deep-red spathe lasts for a long time and looks like a heart when viewed from above. I like to grow my calla lilies in pots and bring them indoors for overwintering.
4. Hardy cyclamen — Many cyclamen coum and hederifolia cultivars have heart-shaped leaves and light- to deep-pink or white flowers that hover over the foliage like a fluttering butterfly. These tuberous plants make a good ground cover for a shade garden and bloom when color is most needed in the fall, winter or early spring.
5. Moonflower — Also called white morning glory, this annual climber is a relative of the potato vine. Its large, fragrant, white flowers bloom at night; during the day, the pretty, heart-shaped leaves take center stage.
6. Hosta ‘Heartleaf’ — This clumping perennial has prominently veined leaves and produces lots of large, lavender flowers in the summer. It grows well in shady areas and tolerates a variety of well draining soils.
7. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ — This is a rhizomatous, shade-loving perennial with textured 8-inch leaves that are dark green with a frosting of white. Sprays of light blue flowers appear to float above the foliage in the springtime.
8. Beesia calthifolia — This lesser-known perennial does well with shade and nutrient-rich soil. Its glossy, dark-green leaves have prominent, light-colored veins; the foliage turns purple in winter. During the spring, 10-inch purple stems bear a delicate spray of tiny white flowers.
9. Lunaria rediviva — Known as perennial honesty, this hardy plant grows 2-3 feet tall. It thrives in a variety of well draining soils with plenty of sunshine and some afternoon shade. Fragrant lavender flowers bloom in the spring/early summer; its iridescent seedpods are more elongated than other types of honesty.
10. Asarum caudatum — Last but not least is a native rhizomatous plant, commonly called Wild Ginger. Its leathery, evergreen leaves give off a ginger scent when rubbed. It has unusual maroon flowers that bloom in late winter/early spring. It’s another plant on my list that makes a hearty groundcover in shade gardens.
For more plants with a heart, see my blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/
— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.