Hearts and/or flowers grace items that are beaded or chip carved and are etched on birch bark containers by Wabanaki artists and tribes directly west of the Wabanaki lands. Floral designs are many centuries old and hearts are on items dating to the late 1700's. I don't know if there is research detailing the earliest known heart or flower, but some of the photographs here show examples of older heart/flower items as well as some current. Silver items made by English and French silversmith's in the late 1600's - early 1800's sometimes used hearts to decorate the silver trade items. The heart shaped ring brooches and heart shaped piercings on large items were popular.
PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture
1 Beaded Heart with Double Curve: Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, Penobscot - available in the "Current Maine Indian Arts" section of this website
2 Birch Bark Mukuk with Etched/Scraped Design C/1800: Stanislaus family, Penobscot - collections of Hudson Museum, University of Maine, Orono
3 Flower Chip Carved on Talking Stick: Hugga Dana, Penobscot - available in the "Current Maine Indian Arts" section of this website
4 Beaded fFlowers on Iroquois Silk Bag C/1870-1900 - private collection
5 Quill floral design coiled sweetgrass basket: Paul St John, Mohawk - available in the "Current Maine Indian Arts" section of this website
Bead work of the Wabanaki federation (Abenaki, MicMac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penboscot tribes) had hearts and flowers as beaded designs, certainly more flowers than hearts. Some early Iroquoisian and MicMac pincushions were made in the shape of hearts (and some of them had beaded flowers on them - hearts and flowers!)
Etched birch bark items often have floral designs and pictured is an early 1800's "mukuk" with an etched heart made by a member of the Penobscot Stanislaus family.
Chip carved items such as root clubs, walking sticks and talking sticks often have a floral design chip carved on them. Vines, leaves and branches were carved into the earliest chip carved items. The first chip carved flowers I know of appeared in the 1950's and Senabeh, a carver during that time, popularized the chip carved "tulip" and "daisy" shaped flowers.