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Why are Red Roses a Valentine’s Favourite?

Valentine's Day and red roses go hand-in-hand, as lovers everywhere give symbols of their affection to their significant other on February 14th each year.

The floristry industry enjoys a massive boost every year, with an estimated £262 million being spent on flowers in the UK alone. Around three-quarters of British men send flowers to their loved one on Valentine's Day, with the favourite bloom being long-stemmed red roses.

Giving Roses

© WDnet Studio / Adobe Stock


Why send flowers?

In order to understand the tradition of giving flowers on Valentine's Day (particularly red roses), we must go back to 18th-century Sweden when the custom began. Each type of flower was designated a special meaning, so it was possible to send bouquets containing a non-verbal message.

In an era when letters were the only form of written communication, and when strict social rules applied to romance and courting, people were able to have an intimate conversation solely by sending flowers. This practice was known as floriography.

Flowers have different meanings, according to floriography, with red roses symbolising love. Other flowers included a mixed bouquet of pink lilies and white freesia, signifying you were romantically interested in the other person but unsure if they felt the same way.

An arrangement of daisies would signify a loving friendship, rather than a relationship where Cupid's arrow had struck.

In addition to red roses being the flower of love and romance, other roses have various meanings: pink roses symbolise grace and the sender's appreciation of the recipient, yellow roses mean friendship and white roses present the beauty of innocence.

Red tulips are also a declaration of true love, white carnations mean the recipient is "sweet and lovely" and pink carnations mean, "I'll never forget you."

A bouquet of lavender is a message of devotion, daffodils signal a new beginning (hence they may be ideal for a new relationship) and magenta lilacs symbolise passion. If you send peonies on Valentine's Day, ensure your intentions are serious, as they symbolise marriage.


Legend of Aphrodite

The red rose signified romantic love, hence it evolved into the main type of flower sent on Valentine's Day. The rose had this meaning because of its association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love. In Ancient Greek mythology, it was said that rose bushes sprung up through the ground after Aphrodite cried.

The legend of Aphrodite and her lover, Adonis, is one of the most popular in Greek mythology. Not even the gods could escape when the god of love, Eros, struck with his bow and arrow - the origin of Cupid's arrow. It was said that Aphrodite fell in love with the mortal Adonis.

However, the Greek god of war, Ares, was jealous when he found out Aphrodite had feelings for the handsome human. Adonis was a hunter and Aphrodite asked him to give up the dangerous sport, but he enjoyed it too much. While out chasing a wild boar one day, the animal killed him, but it was really Ares, who had transformed into animal form to end Adonis' life.

It was said that in every spot where Aphrodite's tears mingled with Adonis' blood on the ground, a red rose bush sprang through the earth and began to grow - hence the legend of red roses being associated with true love began.

The Ancient Romans, whose own goddess of love was Venus, also recognised red rose as a symbol of love. In modern times, when Valentine’s Day became the celebration of love and romance that we know today, the red rose became the choice as the most romantic of gifts.


Origins of the rose

In terms of evolution, the rose is actually millions of years old. Fossil evidence dates its origins to 35 million years ago. A member of the genus Rosa, the rose has evolved into around 150 different species today.

They grow all over the world: they spread across the northern hemisphere, from Mexico to Alaska, taking in northern Africa. During Ancient Roman times, roses grew in the wild throughout the Middle East.

In the UK, they are a popular plant for domestic garden cultivation. This practice began in China around 5,000 years ago, as roses grew mainly in the wild prior to this. During the time of the Roman Empire, roses' popularity grew and public rose gardens were cultivated, mostly in the south of Rome.

Throughout the ages, roses have been used as confetti, to make perfume and for medicinal purposes, as well as being given as gifts to loved ones.


Civil war

The rose has even been a symbol of war in modern history. In the 15th century, different factions were fighting to gain control of England, in what became known as the Wars of the Roses. Two rival branches of the royal family, the House of Lancaster and the House of York, fought for control of the nation.

The House of Lancaster was associated with a red rose and the House of York's symbol was the white rose. The civil wars raged on between 1455 and 1487, until the final victory saw a descendant of the Lancastrian factor, Henry Tudor, ascend to the throne of England as Henry VII.

Today, Yorkshire and Lancashire are still known as the white rose and red rose counties respectively.


Cultivated roses

In the late 18th century, cultivated roses finally became more widespread across Europe, after being introduced from China. Most roses today are linked genetically to the Chinese roses from this era.

Roses bloomed repeatedly, making them extremely interesting to hybridisers, who researched breeding the plants and began mixing the species to make them hardier, creating a longer blooming season.

The early research of the plant breeders remains of great interest to gardeners today, as it created many of the species that we know and love in Britain's gardens. Roses never go out of popularity, as they fit the demands of modern lifestyles.

People like plants that are not too demanding, that look beautiful when they flower and that are hardy in winter. Plants that are resistant to disease and fit well into borders, shrubs and perennial gardens are also very popular. Roses fit the bill on every count and they are an enjoyable addition to any garden.


Valentine's roses

Over the Valentine's period, the UK sees a massive boom in the sale of roses - and in particular red roses. An additional 250 million extra roses are supplied for Valentine's Day. The average cost of a bouquet containing 12 red roses is around £32.

It's usually a man buying a bouquet of roses for a loved one - 75% of Valentine's roses are bought by men, according to the Ipsos-Insight Floral Trends consumer survey. Of all the flowers bought as Valentine's Day presents, 43% are red roses.

Most men who buy roses are giving them to their wife, while the women who buy roses are often giving them to their mother or daughter, as a sign of their love and appreciation.

Around 40% of the Valentine's roses are imported from overseas. This is mainly because the winter climate of February makes it difficult for UK suppliers to meet the massive demand. The world's top flower producers are the Netherlands, Ecuador and Colombia.

Giving 12 red roses signifies passionate love, while giving three red roses symbolises those three little words: "I love you."

Although the romance of the special day spells big business for florists, Valentine's Day ranks only third on the list of holidays which prompt the largest number of flower sales. Christmas remains number one on the list, with Mother's Day second.

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