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Why are roses given as a gift for Valentine’s Day? Are there any alternative flowers for 14 February?

Giving roses possibly dates back to ancient societies, where roses were associated with Greek and Roman goddess of love.

Why are roses given as a gift for Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is nearly here and florists across the country will be readying themselves for the annual rush. Red roses are the flower most synonymous with the romantic celebration, despite not being seasonal in the United States.

So where does the tradition come from?

There are a couple of possible explanations...

Firstly, some scholars believe that the link between romance and the red rose comes from ancient mythology. For the Greeks, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, is said to have created the first red rose when her lover, Adonis, died. The story goes that a red rose grew where Aphrodite’s tears fell on the ground.

An alternative origin story comes from the 18th century, with the practice of rose-giving specifically tied to Valentine’s Day for the first time. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of a British ambassador to Turkey, wrote about the local Turkish custom of sending flowers to denote meaning.

Her letters back to Britain explaining this practice may well have encouraged members of contemporary high society to do the same. The custom only really caught on in Britain in the early 19th century, but once it did roses soon became linked to romance.

And, of course, a large part of the reason for their success was the characteristics of the flowers themselves. Dr. Sara Cleto, co-founder of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic, believes that the popularity of roses is “because roses are beautiful, fabulous-smelling flowers that happen to travel really well.”

She adds: “Flowers are usually shipped over long distances, and roses are both gorgeous and hardy, so that’s a huge part of why this practice has continued.”

What alternatives are there to roses on Valentine’s Day?

The red rose may have become synonymous with Valentine’s Day but the ever-popular flower is not typically in season at this time in the northern hemisphere. This means that the blooms have to be flown in from elsewhere and they rack up a significant carbon footprint.

“It is one of the most significant events in the floristry calendar but it’s very stark in February,” says Olivia Wilson, co-founder of SSAW Collective. “When you look outside and see what is growing naturally, it definitely doesn’t look anything like traditional rose bouquets.”

So instead of spending big bucks on imported roses this Valentine’s Day, here’s some more seasonal options that make a great alternative…

  • Camellia
  • Hellebore
  • Hyacinths
  • Ranunculus
  • Anemone coronaria
  • Tulips
  • Narcissus
  • Early blossom
  • Magnolia
  • Snowdrops