Legend of the Pansy Shell

This page is dedicated to Connie, my friend from Texas

Pansy shell, front side

Pansy shell, reverse side

There's a pretty little legend
That I would like to tell
Of the birth and death of Jesus
Found in this lovely shell

If you examine closely
you'll see that you find here
Four nail holes and a fifth one
Made by the Roman spear

One on each side is the Easter lily
it's center is the star
That appeared unto the shepherds
and led them from afar

The Christmas poinsettia
Etched on the other side
Reminds us of His birthday
our happy Christmastide

Now break the center open
and here you will release
The five white doves awaiting
To spread goodwill and peace

This simple little symbol
Christ has left for you and me
To help us spread His gospel
Through all eternity.


Pansy shell facts

Plettenberg Bay's emblem is the pansy shell. This beautiful shell has a perfect flower carved on it's back by Mother Nature for inscrutable reasons of her own.
And nothing puts the pinnacle on a visit to Plettenberg Bay better than actually finding an undamaged pansy shell yourself.
In fact the pansy is a living creature and not a shell at all. It feeds while burying itself just under the surface of the sand in very shallow water. When it is alive it is purple in colour and covered in short furry bristles.
When it dies it takes about a week for it to be bleached white by the salt and the sun.
Two years ago Mr. Edgar Cooke of Plettenberg Bay kept two pansy shells as pets and it looked as if "pet pansies" might take over from the "pet rock" craze of the time.
He kept his pet pansies in a plastic bowl filled with sea sand and water. And every second day he took them for a walk on the beach.
It didn't mean much walking for Mr. Cooke as his pansies moved at the rate of only about a metre an hour.
Pansy shells have the best of both worlds. They are born male and then later become female  in order to lay the eggs already fertile inside them.
These eggs are washed out to sea by the tide . They turn into larvae which are washed back in by the tide and deposited in the sand. Here they hatch in time into tiny pansy shells.
The Garden Route is the only place in the world where these shells are found. A similar species is found in California where they are known as sand dollars. But they differ from their South African cousins in that they have no perforation and have a rounder disc like shape.

We have just returned from a trip to Mozambique where I picked up some pansy shells at Pansy Island off the coast from Inhambane.
Pansy Shells are big business in Plettenberg Bay where they are sold as paper weights, pendants and wall plaques. They are also exported to Australia and America to conchologists who value them highly because they are so rare.