“Venus’-Flower-Basket,” Friend, Feb. 1984, 22



At traditional Japanese weddings, the bride and groom may be given a Venus’-flower-basket. The basket is an intricate, hollow glass structure about 10 inches (25 cm) long. The gracefully curved cylinder with its fluted tiers looks very much like the fine ivory carvings produced by Asia’s master craftsmen.

The basket is not the work of any artist, however. It is a living animal, a glass sponge from the deep sea. Sometimes called regadera (Spanish watering pot), it lives on the bottom of the ocean at depths of 600 to 1000 feet (180 to 300 m). Firmly attached to the bottom by thick ropes of glass fibers, the sponge grows quietly in the dark water, building its skeleton from laceworks of glass needles. The result is one of the most beautiful creations of nature.

Many animals make their homes inside the bodies of sponges, which are usually constructed of tubes and hollow chambers. It is not uncommon to find a great variety of small crustaceans, fish, worms, and other creatures inside these living houses of the sea. The flower basket often shelters a large number of these animals. Sometimes a pair of shrimps become permanent tenants. The shrimps, usually a male and a female, enter the sponge when they are very small larvae by squeezing through the tiny holes in the glass network. Once inside the hollow space, they begin to grow and grow. Soon they can no longer squeeze through the latticework, and so the two little shrimps remain inside the basket together for the rest of their lives.

In Japan, where the Venus’-flower-basket is sometimes caught up in fishing nets, the sponge is a valuable find. The Japanese think that the basket with its pair of inhabitants is a symbol of permanent wedded happiness. When given as a wedding present, it is a wish that the newlyweds will find the same happiness in their new life together.

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh