Love is in the air and in the soil! While the origins of the Valentine’s Day holiday are somewhat hazy, we have no doubt as to how the natural world has influenced our modern celebration of love. Check out these native Chesapeake Bay plants that bring to mind the feelings and mood of the Valentine’s season.

Dicentra eximia (Photo Credit: The Monticello Shop)

Dicentra eximia – “wild bleeding heart”

The wild bleeding heart is native to Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It thrives in the forest floors, rocky woods, and ledges of the Appalachian Mountains. Dicentra eximia is deer-resistant and cultivated varieties can likewise resist predation from hungry backyard deer. While not yet blooming for Valentine’s Day, the whitish pink summer blooms of the wild bleeding heart no doubt bring to mind the heart-shaped imagery we love to share in cards, love notes, or text emojis to a Valentine.

Symphyotrichum cordifolium (Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Native Plant Center)

Symphyotrichum cordifolium – “heart-leaved aster”

Heart-leaved asters are native to every Bay watershed state apart from Delaware and Maryland. The petals (often blue) attract pollinators such as butterflies to collect pollen from their yellow centers. The heart-shaped leaves are in bloom from late summer through mid-autumn. Asters like Symphyotrichum cordifolium can be a vital late-season food source for pollinators as many other native plants begin to enter their dormancy seasons in the fall. The aster family of herbaceous plants has at least 600 varieties. Heart-leaved asters, being a fairly common species, are sometimes considered weeds in urban areas. Traditionally asters have been associated with patience, good luck, and lasting love.

Cercis canadensis (Photo Credit: The Tree Center)

Cercis canadensis“eastern redbud”

What is there not to love about the Eastern redbud? Cercis canadensis is a very adaptable species that thrives in many soil conditions under varying levels of sun. This nitrogen-fixing tree offers year-round interest – from pinkish-purple buds in the early spring, to heart-shaped leaves emerging red through late spring before turning a deep green in summer and yellow in the autumn. After the warm winter that much of the watershed has experienced this season, redbud blooms are likely not far off. Buds emerge from the bark of twigs and branches, and even parts of the trees’ trunks. Eastern redbud blossoms are edible, imparting a citrusy taste to dishes. Unopened buds can even be used as a substitute for capers!

Eastern redbud’s heart-shaped leaves (Photo Credit: Flickr)

While most of these native plant species are not showing off their Valentine blooms on February 14th, we can see how the colors and symbols we associate with love appear around us throughout the year. Are you looking to make a new Valentine’s (or Galentine’s!) tradition with your loved ones?

Instead of gifting a bouquet of roses – which often require large quantities of fertilizers, water, and pesticides before being shipped large distances – consider giving out native plant seeds or a tree sapling to plant this spring.