Valentine’s Day is steeped in some fascinating historical traditions.
Take, for instance, a custom in 12th century France where random slips of paper were used on Valentine’s Day to match men and women together. That match had to last an entire year, and the men were expected to supply their matches with flowers every week and seek vengeance should anybody insult their ladies, according to University of Colorado researcher Michael Bell.
So the gift of flowers has obviously been linked to Valentine’s Day for centuries—and their popularity hasn’t dulled a bit. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly one in five people plan to buy Valentine’s Day gifts from florists. And the red rose specifically continues to be the go-to choice for romantics.
But, why the red rose? There are plenty of lovely flowers to pick from that come in a variety of colors.
We turned to the experts to get an answer. Alfred Palomares, vice president of merchandising for 1-800-Flowers.com, said it goes back thousands of years to Roman mythology.
“According to popular lore, the red rose began its well known symbolic history by being the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love,” Palomares said. “Red roses are the most popular flower for Valentine’s Day, and, through the ages, continue to be the iconic representations of expressing affection and, of course, love.”
This year, his company expects to sell 9 millions roses for Valentine’s Day, which represents 56 percent of the total flowers they sell on the holiday.
According to the University of Illinois Extension’s historical entry on roses, the rose has been a treasured flower for centuries. Roses were so prized in the 17th century that royalty considered them as legal tender.
And as for the red rose, specifically, Bonnie Winston, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert, explained that centuries ago, the color red was used to symbolize fire and strong emotions.
“For many poets and writers, roses have been both used as romantic associations of love, allure and passion, as well as negative ones displayed by their thorns,” Winston said.
She pointed to William Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet,” wherein Juliet, arguably the most iconic romantic heroine in literary history, says: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
“I tell my clients there is nothing as tender as giving someone red roses on Valentine’s Day,” Winston said.
And, if flowers could speak, they’d likely agree with her sentiment. Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension maintains an encyclopedia of “The language of flowers.” In it, the red rose, not surprisingly, translates to “Love” or “I love you.”
But, if you want to get creative this Valentine’s Day, you could also give some of these flowers, which also translate to lovey-dovey sentiments: the arbutus (“Thee only do I love”); the red camellia (“You’re a flame in my heart); the red carnation (“My heart aches for you”) or the forget-me-not (“True love”).
But some flowers you’ll want to stay away from include gladioli (“Give me a break”); yellow hyacinth (“Jealousy”) and the orange lily (“hatred”).