The history, legend and future of the Dwarf Heartleaf Valentine

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I recently read a valentine story printed in 1930, which I will now I relate to you. See if you find the deeper message, not even imagined by the author.

Once upon a time a fairy queen offered a gold forget-me-not ring as a prize to the little fairy who could make the prettiest valentine. A fat little brownie named Jumbo desperately wanted to win the prize because he had no ring at all. So Jumbo worked and worked with paper and scissors and paint and colored paper until finally he had created a valentine that he thought might win the prize. It was full of bluebirds and colored hearts and flowers and lace – a most beautiful valentine!

Well, on Valentine’s Day, on the way to present his valentine card to the fairy queen, Jumbo was walking through a pansy bed when he heard a little girl crying. Her name was Marigold, and she was crying because someone had sent her an ugly, horrible looking valentine with a great big mouth and big nose drawn on it. Marigold was sobbing and sobbing.

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Jumbo slipped behind Marigold and was astonished to see such an ugly valentine, thinking “What a shame that anyone should send such an ugly valentine. I will take it away and give her my beautiful valentine.” Forgetting all about the queen and the forget-me-not prize, Jumbo quickly dropped his prettiest valentine on Marigold’s lap, snatched the ugly one away and tore it up.

Oh, Marigold was so happy and surprised when she opened her eyes and saw the beautiful valentine full of birds and hearts and flowers. She wondered who could have sent it. But of course Jumbo did not tell her, for no one ever tells who sends valentines.

Jumbo was back in fairyland by the time Marigold dried her eyes. For the first time Jumbo remembered that he now had no valentine to show the queen. All the other little fairies were scampering off to the palace to present their valentines to the queen, each hoping that theirs would win the prize.

Standing still in his tracks, Jumbo wondered what to do. He had given his prettiest valentine to the little girl named Marigold. He had given away all the other valentines that he had made too; he had slipped them under doors, rung the doorbells and run, run, run! What was he to do?

Something touched Jumbo’s toes as he stood in the damp clay. Looking down at his feet, he saw a lovely little plant with rich green leaves shaped like a heart. He suddenly chuckled as he knew what to do. He gathered up a bit of brown clay around his feet, formed it into a little brown jug, placed the pretty heart shaped leaves into his vase, and skipped away with the other little fairies to show his valentine to the queen.

The queen smiled and smiled when she saw the cunning little jug and the fresh, heart shaped leaves. The queen thought it was the most beautiful valentine of all and she told Jumbo so, as she listened to his story about the little girl he had found crying.

So it was that Jumbo received the prize, and when the queen slipped the forget-me-not ring on Jumbo’s finger all the other little fairies clapped and clapped and clapped.

Today, if you search the woods in early spring, you might find the lovely heart-shaped leaves yourself. Tucked among them, close to the brown earth, you might even find a little jug like Jumbo’s.

Perhaps the fairy queen asked old Mother Nature to hide them there, that the earth world children might learn to make only beautiful valentines. The End.

Post script: The Dwarf Heartleaf (hexastylis naniflora) was placed on the federal threatened species list on April 14, 1989. The plant is known from eleven counties in southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina. In 2004 there were about 150 populations known, four of them in Polk County, but many of these are very small. The main threat to the species is the loss and degradation of its habitat. Much of the plant’s historical habitat has been converted to agriculture, particularly peach orchards, and developed into residential areas. Remaining populations can be found on land which is threatened by cattle grazing, agriculture, expanding residential and commercial areas, timber harvesting, and construction of ponds and lakes.