What extinct plant inspired the symbol for heart-shaped Valentines?

The shape of the heart is iconic of love, but it barely resembles the organ in our chests that the Greeks called the seat of the emotions. Why is that?

Ancient coins from Cyrene, a city-state where Libya is now, show an impression of a silphium seed; it’s a shape that you know very well. Silphium is the now-extinct “giant fennel” of the genus Ferula. Silphium was the center of ancient Cyrene’s economy because the plant was prized for its medicinal qualities, which ranged from treating coughs to being used as an herbal contraceptive. It was widely used throughout the Mediterranean.

Silphium only grew in the wild and could not be cultivated. Much like the heart it symbolizes, attempts at domesticating the plant may have been the cause of its demise.


  1. lol -  February 23, 2011 - 11:23 am

    wat the heck?

  2. Taboondocks -  February 18, 2011 - 8:26 am

    @john rhea: Really? I just so happen to have a quote of yours from another article. It reads, “I have cross bred my mexican hairless and my cockerspaniel. I am hoping to one day, show my hairless cock on the W.K.C.D.S.” I think that based on this cretinous, vulgar joke, you have absolutely no room to talk. Moron.

  3. john rhea -  February 17, 2011 - 3:40 am

    I think most of you, including Taboondox, are unemployed idiots with too much time on your hands. Read through all these comments. I’m embarrassed to be around you. And Taboondox, you aren’t “genious”, you’re “moron”.

  4. John -  February 14, 2011 - 8:38 am


    Wow! What a “plot” – well conceived and executed!! Bravo!!!

    And – thank you for my “Disney conclusion”. 8^)

    Your point was SO well made. Even after your explanation, people were still deriding the original post (proving that they don’t fully investigate an issue before speaking up).

    Hope you are once again able to move freely about the cabin (your snowed in situation has been rectified).

  5. Curly -  February 13, 2011 - 9:29 am


    I think I like you very much, sir.

  6. holly -  February 12, 2011 - 1:07 am

    and @genious: you say youre a genius but u can’t spell anything properly! let me guess…ur from 1 of those three states?? well one things for sure you can’t spell! (no offence) There are heaps of comments about u, maybe u should clean up after urself and check wat u do next time, k! i bet ur just messing with us to generate more comments, thats unfair so stop it :(

    ~holly :)
    p.s. happy valentines day for when it comes

  7. holly -  February 12, 2011 - 1:03 am

    gosh, hearts are pretty! thx dicitonary com

    u always read my mind :)


  8. TaboondoX -  February 11, 2011 - 9:36 pm

    @A Pair O’ Docs: You might say that the whole circumstance and turnout of this plot was ironic. :)

  9. A Pair O' Docs -  February 11, 2011 - 7:18 pm

    @TaboondoX: You!? You were genious all along!? What an inconceivably dastardly plot; you fiendish scoundrel!

  10. Mar -  February 11, 2011 - 6:56 pm

    After making those remarks I bet “genious” is just messing with everyone, no way (s)he can’t be that stupid. But who knows! Life is full of surprises!!! Lol

  11. TaboondoX -  February 11, 2011 - 1:13 pm

    Looks like you’ll get your Disney conclusion, John. As it would turn out, I was the infinitely moronic “genious” after all. I know what you all might be thinking? “Why on Earth would he do something like that?!” For one, I did this to prove that on an article that’s supposed to be about love, you all would be incapable of following the theme; especially if there was someone to let the crap hit the fan. Thank you for making examples of yourselves (most of you), you’ve entertained me. I mean, it was the perfect plot, and the fact that I made a critical comment to myself made the plot all the thicker, plus it made the deception even more opaque than it already was. Now then, the second reason why I did this is because we (the inhabitants) were snowed in where I live for the past week. I had nothing better to do at the time. Keep on truckin’, folks!

  12. A Pair O' Docs -  February 11, 2011 - 11:56 am

    Quite the uncharacteristically short article, HotWord. I’m surprised, but not displeased. :)

    I must say, however, to see the Dictionary community degrading in such a manner (here’s looking at you, genious); well, it just breaks my silphium.

  13. LOV3 CHOCOLATE!! -  February 10, 2011 - 5:30 pm

    you ppl are sooo weird for reading comment after comment then again im weird for doing anyways….
    @ random 9th grader:
    IM A 9th GRADER TOO!!!!!

  14. PAIN-IS CUPCAKE -  February 10, 2011 - 5:19 pm

    Wooooow. You guys comment almost as bad as angry Youtubers *haha*. St. Valentines WAS a real guy, and so was this “heart-shaped plant” thing. They went well together, so someone somewhere decided “Hey! Let’s have a reason to be loved on a certain day of the year!”. Now they are both major contributors to the holiday known as Valentines Day.

    BTW: Say “PAIN-IS” really fast, and you get why that is my name.

  15. LLOOPP -  February 10, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    Stay in the loooooooooooooooop
    Im on the genius’s side!! *woot woot*

  16. scott -  February 10, 2011 - 4:54 pm

    I can not believe that we, as humans, caused the extinction of the symbol we all use and “love”.

  17. antonio -  February 10, 2011 - 4:27 pm

    It is story when an history, a fact is misunderstood. Unicorn, for example, it is rhinus, an African animal looks like a horse with a horn (Unic+horn); its meaning came from Greeks when Alexander’s Empire was in Africa. Heart is shaped like it was a head of a lamb. People there were small human beings (spermatozoid). They thought little lambs (explaining to children) hit inside the chest. By shapes many names of human body have meanings of tools…

  18. JJ Rousseau -  February 10, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    Misses Sand Hand, all in your dreams. Hearts-silphium — whatever it seems,
    so please switch on your magic graphic, misses sand heart, send us some traffic. Idgaf.

  19. andrea -  February 10, 2011 - 3:06 pm

    i dont get it . . . -.-

  20. Kelly -  February 10, 2011 - 2:43 pm

    To Moot,

    It’s pronounced sil-fee-um, with a soft “ph” as in “elephant”.

  21. Kelly -  February 10, 2011 - 2:42 pm

    Obviously, a safe, effective herbal contraceptive like silphium was in high demand (as it would be today). It was also difficult to cultivate, so the ancients over-harvested the wild supply and the plant went extinct.

  22. Leave -  February 10, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    every body sucks in here and a baby whith a brain could tell people that human hearts don’t look like this :(

  23. What kind of comments are these??LOL -  February 10, 2011 - 1:35 pm

    lol! The text was interesting. I never knew about that…Cool. But my fav. part was when i read all the comments! They were hilarious! Who cares if you have proper spelling(except for that one guy…genious ? yea he really did have bad spelling, and if he/she wanted to say thoes things WHY WOULD YOU READ THE TEXT??) anyway… Can you believe that these comments were have only been posted a couple of days…I’m writting this on Feb. 10th and already there are TONES!! Lol. it was a great joy reading this and I just realized that no one will probably be reading MY comment so why should I still be writting it??.
    Ok seriously BYE!!

  24. Knowledge from Elam -  February 10, 2011 - 1:23 pm

    The reason why the heart is shaped the way it is, is because the heart we know today is the simplest shape of a butt when someone bends over. Sex = Romance, as Romantic Language = Body Parts.

    This shape dates back to Paleolithic art and is universal.

  25. Kayla -  February 10, 2011 - 12:53 pm

    It breaks my heart to see that I am surrounded by this many idiots.

  26. FellatioAbuser -  February 10, 2011 - 12:48 pm

    Judging by your spelling, you are stupid, as well.

  27. JackAttack -  February 10, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    @random 9th grader

    Think before you stereotype please. Just because the guys in your class are stupid does not make every guy on the planet a moron. I frequently use big words and confuse guys and girls with them.


    STFU you dumbass troll. Someone needs to throw your computer off of a roof.

  28. Anonymous -  February 10, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    I hate to nitpick at other people, but I was very offended at some of the comments on here. “Genious” was one of the most offensive to me, as I live in one of the three states that he/she listed; however, (though I know they were only trying to help) many people telling him/her that they must’ve come from the states he/she was putting down also came off as offensive to me. Again, I know you all were only trying to help, but you also inadvertently emphasized his/her point.

    But, in an effort to keep this post from being completely focused on the actions of previous posters, I would like to note that it was a very interesting article. I normally do not have much time to read through lengthy articles, so the succinctness of this one was refreshing. I always did wonder how the heart’s symbol came into being when the organ looks almost nothing like it. Perhaps in an upcoming article you could explain why the heart itself is associated with strong emotions such as love and heartbreak? I would very much enjoy reading about a subject such as that. As always, this article was wonderfully written; I can’t wait for the next one!

  29. Anon -  February 10, 2011 - 12:22 pm

    I dont think that was even Miley seriously…..

  30. Audrey -  February 10, 2011 - 12:06 pm

    why is everyone being so hypocritical, i mean its not like you have never miss spelled anything?

  31. John -  February 10, 2011 - 12:03 pm

    I am totally BLOWN AWAY by the pettiness prevalent throughout these comments! And though I truly don’t understand exactly what point ‘genious’ desired to make in the first post (other than to be mean), it should be OBVIOUS that much care was taken to misspell that extremely (i.e. – ’twas done intentionally!).

    Thank you, Roxanne, for being (’til now) the only voice speaking to that probability.

    ‘mark V’ – points well made – what a waste of time getting upset over misspellings, etc. – I’m kind of amazed at myself for having actually taken the time to read down the entire list. I guess I kept hoping that (like a bad movie), it would get better – and that perhaps ‘genious’ would reply with a very eloquent and loquacious comment and thereby thumb his or her nose at the ridiculous replies.

    Anyway – enough time wasted.

    By the way, thank you for the original article and its intent. Sorry you had to endure the madness that followed its posting.

  32. Esteban the Tortilla Sales Guy -  February 10, 2011 - 11:30 am

    St. Valentine did exist and he was a wedding performer. the miracles he performed were bringing couples who had strayed far from each other back together again. he was arrested for performing a wedding in the middle of Rome so when he was in prison, he called to him the couple and performed the wedding outside of his cell. he then escaped and was recaptured three more times after that

  33. Ooga Booga -  February 10, 2011 - 11:20 am

    I’m not so convinced that this explanation is correct, there are several “theories” of origins…..none of which I think anyone knows for sure my be correct….but it’s all fun trying to guess.

    Miley, why don’t you send genious and his homeboys tickets to your concert.

  34. WALNUT -  February 10, 2011 - 11:14 am


  35. Svenjamin -  February 10, 2011 - 10:59 am

    Yeah, the blueberries are a mystery to me, too. Regardless, I’m curous about St. Valentine’s Day. Catholic’s require that to become a saint you must perform 2 miracles. I’d like to know what miracles St. Valentine performed and if he ever really existed. Or, is he a creation to make revenue for greeting card, jewelry and knickknack companies to hock their “heartfelt”, but useless wares?

  36. mark V -  February 10, 2011 - 10:53 am

    If he is wrong, let him be wrong.

    Nothing you do will change his outlook,”genious” is an irrelevent line of text a thousand miles away. While he may be wrong, that is a subjective matter and from their position, WE are the irrelevent lines who dont know what theyre talking about.

    Let stupid lines lie. getting worked up acomplishes nothing.

  37. random 9th grader! -  February 10, 2011 - 10:38 am

    I think its a him… Most of the guys in my class are very illiterate. I hate it. I really like using large words. And then they don’t know what it means! Same with some of the girls. But ALL of the guys in my class are illiterate. Ugh.

  38. sehrish -  February 10, 2011 - 10:37 am

    ohh thts what i always wounder and see it grows in wild as love tht cant be growns intentionaly love the information

  39. poop -  February 10, 2011 - 10:33 am

    u gay.
    and the blueberries are in the shape of a heart… in an article about hearts. duh.
    youz a bunch of gay little girls

  40. genious -  February 10, 2011 - 10:09 am

    yea u ppl allways b hatin > i kno u guis aint got no lifes but shesh > im from vagirnia not any of dem three states > y wud i critisize mii oun state if i waz from dere > so what mii dad had me wit hiz elimintry sckool sweathart aka hiz cuzin > dat dozn,t macke me enidiot > i bet i kan speek betta dan ne off u more-onz gawd git a freekin live ppl

  41. A careless mans careful daughter. -  February 10, 2011 - 10:06 am

    Wow! All this comments over a little thing. Also my birthday is today!

  42. Esteban the Tortilla Sales Guy -  February 10, 2011 - 9:59 am

    First of all, What the bill is with all of the dumb comments. sewiuswy guys and four all yous guys hoo cant spelle yous neids to take sum lessens

  43. MOOT -  February 10, 2011 - 9:50 am

    An important part of the Egyptian soul was thought to be the Ib, or heart. The heart, not the brain, was thought to be the seat of emotion, thought, will, and was key to the afterlife.
    The seed of the silphium had an image on it just like our Valentine hearts.
    Wish I knew how to pronounce silphium.

  44. Kathy -  February 10, 2011 - 9:33 am

    … and Genious can’t even spell his/her own name! If he/she could, it would be GENIUS! Geez, not just pot calling kettle black but making a total fool of him/herself too …

  45. random 9th grader! -  February 10, 2011 - 9:06 am

    Ok… Girst things first. NO ONE CARES MILEY. I’m not a big fan. Ok… got that out of the way. So first, what the hells with the blueberries?! They are irrelivant to the article. And for Big Time Loser, your not a loser. If any one’s a loser it might as well be me. I’m a nerd too! :3… pervy face! Irrelivent, but oh well. Ok, so the blueberries, WHY?! THEY ARE OF NO RELIVANCY!!!!!!! And another thing, if we cared enough for the world the silphium would not be extinct! Oh well I guess. Another species of plant we will never get to see…

  46. Alan Turner -  February 10, 2011 - 8:53 am

    Don’t we wonder how an herbal contraceptive works? Perhaps we could have a discussion on Viagra versus silphium.. Would that be like ying and yang? Hard and soft?

  47. Roxanne -  February 10, 2011 - 8:21 am

    I think @Genious’ (sic) incorrect spelling is intentional. I can’t help but read through the lines that s/he knew exactly what they were doing. It took them some time and thought to make those errors. They should have signed themselves ” Ingenious “.

  48. grammarguru -  February 10, 2011 - 8:11 am



  49. Michelle -  February 10, 2011 - 7:42 am

    Genius-For someone who can’t spell, you should not be calling anyone stupid. A good two thirds of your statement was horribly wrong.

  50. TaboondoX -  February 10, 2011 - 7:38 am

    @R.M.: Yes, but the whole point is that the heart isn’t “never”-ceasing. To further a point, your heart does periodically take short breaks so that it can continue fulfilling its purpose. Besides, if the heart wasn’t cessative, humans would never perish. We’d be older than God himself, so to speak.

    @genious: There are things wrong with your post on several different levels. Though, digressing from my usual technique of nit-picking people’s posts, I’ll summarize my thoughts about you by saying that you’re the epitome of a hypocrite.

  51. Ezekiel Rage -  February 10, 2011 - 7:33 am

    @Bigtime Loser:

    You probably are, my friend, but the trick is not to let the whole world know it; it’s called IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT.


    “Much like the heart it symbolizes, attempts at domesticating the plant may have accidentally lead it [TO] its demise.”

    I never knew that attempts could be made to domesticate a heart. In fact, what exactly do you mean by domesticating a heart, in the first place?

  52. anonymous -  February 10, 2011 - 7:27 am

    I heared from one source that the origin of the ‘heart’ shape is the shape a woman’s buttocks and thighs make when she bends over. I wouldn’t be surprised.

  53. gen -  February 10, 2011 - 7:18 am

    @genious You’re not any smarter. Until you learn how to spell Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee, then you can speak. :D

    Anyways, although a short article, it is quite interesting. But, what is the meaning of “heart”?

  54. Jamie -  February 10, 2011 - 7:17 am

    I was told it was supposed to represent ‘the female buttocks’?? Maybe just a myth then…

  55. AfriBuilder -  February 10, 2011 - 7:01 am

    This is very creative…I love it.

  56. Taimis -  February 10, 2011 - 7:00 am

    Wow! I like this, though I feel bad about what happened to the plant, it would have been a great help specially for medical purposes.

    Taking care of our heart is like nurturing our souls, physically and spiritually.

  57. Wait for it.............MOO goes the chicken! -  February 10, 2011 - 6:59 am

    HAHA! I have stuck my fingure inside of a cows heart….it looks the same as us humans,well kinda.

  58. anonymous -  February 10, 2011 - 6:54 am

    speak english, man !!!

  59. Miley Cyrus -  February 10, 2011 - 6:45 am

    That’s pretty cool, if you think about it…
    And hello to all my fans! I’m giving a concert in May right in Virginia, so come from far and near! Thanks so much!


  60. Donnyboy -  February 10, 2011 - 6:44 am

    One would think that readers of this web site would be more intelligent,but that would not be correct judging from some of the comments.

  61. lol -  February 10, 2011 - 6:22 am

    @genious: Yeah, and you’re SO smart for someone who can’t even spell.

  62. Rickedy Rick -  February 10, 2011 - 6:22 am

    Hey! Don’t mock Arkansaw! Bill Clinton is from there! You love Bill Clinton! You love Hillarry too, so shut eet! Oh well. The true valentine shape comes from the “bleeding heart” flower. A lot of you communist on this forum are bleeding hearts who want to genocide 150 million people for the “greater good” while wringing your hands over “social inequities” and advocacy of special interests groups!!!11

  63. Kallista -  February 10, 2011 - 6:16 am

    To: genious

    Well thankfully, you failed to mention my home state. However, I fail to understand why you feel you have to right to belittle the intelligence of others when you yourself misspelled eleven words in your “rousing” conclusion.

  64. OleTboy -  February 10, 2011 - 5:59 am

    You write: “accidentally lead it its demise.” That ought to be “led to.” But a fascinating article, and MrGrif’s comment on “irony” is engaging.

  65. shaza -  February 10, 2011 - 5:51 am

    this is for Bigtime Loser hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha lol. rofl

  66. shaza -  February 10, 2011 - 5:50 am

    to bad to sad oh wow looser

  67. dejavugirl -  February 10, 2011 - 5:44 am

    thanks for clarifying that, rm.

  68. Stickler -  February 10, 2011 - 5:09 am

    “Lead” is misspelled, i.e. mis-used, in the last sentence. Hope the “genious” [sic] noticed it – else s/he’s in the low percentile of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

  69. Jared -  February 10, 2011 - 5:03 am

    “led” not “lead”

  70. Kuroneko -  February 10, 2011 - 4:41 am

    “Genious” you can’t text talk, don’t bother. Every heart stops at one point, just as every good thing must come to an end. We killed this plant…We cause a lot of bad things, don’t we?

  71. Wilma -  February 10, 2011 - 4:15 am

    To genious – guess you’re from one of those three states then, you’re so stupid you can’t spell. You’d think people on dictionary.com would take more care.

  72. HEART-SILPHIUM | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 10, 2011 - 4:01 am

    [...] — and licorice thrown in the kennel, — with the other doggerel. — Rousseau says, “Silphium Seed, that’s heartless, unlike the transplanted heart kind. — It’s only a chemical reaction — in the [...]

  73. msg -  February 10, 2011 - 3:21 am

    How does the picture of blueberries relate? It’s not even mentioned in the article.

  74. Courtenay Rule -  February 10, 2011 - 3:12 am

    But why did the silphium seed’s shape come to be associated with the heart as a symbol of love? Now there’s a question that hasn’t been answered…

  75. smart ass -  February 10, 2011 - 1:51 am

    damn us humans!!!!!!!!

  76. Steph -  February 10, 2011 - 12:52 am

    To Genious. Please tell me you’re trolling. I really, really, REALLY hope you’re not that dumb. I live on the opposite side of the world, and even I know that it’s spelled Arkansas. I am just going to assume you did this deliberately.

  77. ? -  February 10, 2011 - 12:40 am

    still dont no why heart shape looks like the shape that hearts normily look like

    ? ? ? ?


  78. CKT -  February 10, 2011 - 12:28 am

    Of course it can stop while you’re alive. Ever heard of a heart attack? Sometimes the heart stops dead during a heart attack. And open heart surgery stops the heart while the blood is pumped by an external, mechanical pump. I’m just saying that, if you’re going to ask for specificity and correct facts, look out for someone like me.

  79. Mallory -  February 9, 2011 - 11:11 pm

    To genious:

    Which of those three states are you from?

  80. lmnop -  February 9, 2011 - 11:06 pm

    to r.m.
    c’mon it was a decent point to make. a decent follow up line as well if you’re into stupid puns, which i am….rock chalk!!!!

  81. manzu -  February 9, 2011 - 10:40 pm

    thats whats ironic

  82. manzu -  February 9, 2011 - 10:39 pm

    @genious look at your response

  83. R.M. -  February 9, 2011 - 9:05 pm

    To. Cyberquill/

    It “never” stops “while you are alive.”

  84. genious -  February 9, 2011 - 8:45 pm

    the hart is ironic of wat the hicks of arkansaw kentuckie end tinesee eat. caniballs! i think thats y ppl who live in those three states are SO stuppid.

  85. Cyberquill -  February 9, 2011 - 8:00 pm

    The “never-ceasing” organ in our chests? Ever heard of death?

    Too bad this plant went extinct. This really breaks my silphium.

  86. MrGrif -  February 9, 2011 - 7:50 pm

    Wow… drove it to extinction trying to cultivate it… the irony.


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