Valentine’s Day – All about Love …

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, today’s post by Fang from the Visitor Team, is all about love!

And for more about the objects and collections at Manchester Museum, have a look at the Curators’ blogs.

All about love …

Valentine’s Day is coming soon. In anticipation of a day all about love, I’ve taken a look at some of the objects at Manchester Museum that can be associated with love.

Love flower – the rose, a symbol of love

Roses are the most popular flower in the world. They have a long history and are thought to have first been cultivated in ancient Babylonia and Assyria before finding their way to Europe. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that rose breeding really took off, with people crossing all available roses. The result is that there are over 30,000 varieties  in existence today.

Roses have been present throughout history and across many cultures, with examples found in Egyptian tombs, used to carpet the floors of Roman banqueting halls, and even as symbols of the warring sides in what has become known as ‘The War of the Roses’. However, today it is most well known as a symbol of love.

roses‘Rosa de cels prolifere’: botanical Illustration from the Book (1850) ‘Macedoines variees. Florilegium’. Nature’s library, Manchester Museum.

japanese-rose‘Rosa rugosa’: Japanese rose from sand dunes, Southport, UK, escaped from a garden, 1963. EM94332, flower & plant sheet, Herbarium, Manchester Museum

“Love is the drug”

Roses however are more than just beautiful flowers. Their petals can also be used as a herbal medicine for the treatment of stress, depression and colds etc.

rosa-gallica‘Rosa gallica’: jar of rose petals from the ‘Materia Medica’ collection. Donated by Pharmacy Department, The University of Manchester. Nature’s library, Manchester Museum.

Love nut – Coco de mer

Coco de mer seeds, Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum.

The Coco de Mer is a type of palm tree with seeds that are the largest in the plant kingdom. It only grows in the Seychelles; it had become extinct on some islands, and has only recently been reintroduced. The fruit, which requires 6 years to mature and two years to germinate, is also referred to as the ‘sea coconut’, ‘double coconut’ and ‘love nut’ because of its unusual, erotic shape and the related love legend. Trade in the nuts is controlled and their habitat protected.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were given this rare, aphrodisiac ‘love nut’ as their honeymoon gift by the Seychelles government, and a coco de mer specimen has also been used in weddings hosted by Manchester Museum!

Left: Illustration of the Coco de mer palm (image from: Manchester Museum Collection online). Right: Small Table made from Coco de Mer nut, loaned by Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, ‘Extinction or Survival?’ exhibition, Manchester Museum.

Love birds – Mandarin ducks

daggersDagger without a guard (‘aikuchi’), Living Cultures, Manchester Museum.

This short, decorative dagger, without hand-guard (tsuba), is known as an ‘aikuchi‘. The scabbard mounts are Shibayama work, a lacquer art form combining inlay and relief. The inlays on the gold lacquer include soapstone, mother of pearl, horn and coral. This decoration includes a pair of mandarin ducks on water, surrounded by sprays of cherry blossom and wisteria.

Left: Detail of mandarin ducks on ‘aikuchi’ at Manchester Museum. Right: Male and female mandarin ducks at Martin Mere, UK, by © Francis C. Franklin (image from:

The mandarin duck is a beautiful waterbird, smaller than most wild ducks. They are also known as Chinese ducks called Yuan Yang, standing for male and female mandarin ducks respectively. Yuan and Yang often play in the water in pairs. Also, they are believed to be lifelong couples, so if one of the pair dies, the other would never look for a new partner and spend the rest of its life alone, unlike other species of duck. In Chinese culture, mandarin ducks are a symbol of loyalty to love, and are frequently featured in Chinese art.

“Two mandarin ducks playing in water” is a Chinese metaphor for loving couples, and this pattern is one of the traditional Chinese auspicious patterns used in weddings, symbolising conjugal affection and fidelity.

Hearts – also the symbol of love

The Heart Crab is named for the distinctive heart-shaped pattern on its carapace, which is usually reddish in colour. This Heart Crab was collected from British Columbia and donated to the Manchester Museum by Joseph Hardy in 1891. It is a rare and old specimen currently on display in the Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum.

Left: Heart crab, Nature’s Library, Manchester Museum. Right: Heart crab found in Blakely Harbor, USA, (Image from:

With love from our visitors

Some of our young visitors’ artworks from the ‘Marvellous Winter Mobiles’ activity.

cards-with-love-1A visitor’s comment card, with a message of love for nature!

Finally …

charles-darwin‘Extinction or Survival?’,  Manchester Museum.

On this day of love, may we love nature, love people, love peace and love our wonderful world.

Fang Zong

With special thanks to Lindsey Loughtman and Rachel Webster for their information on the Rose Collection, and Dmitri Logunov for his information on the Heart Crab.

Auspicious Designs of China, 1st Edition, 2012, and Auspicious Animals and Birds in Chinese Culture, 1st Edition, 2013, CHINESE RED series books, and


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