Why Do We Give Red Roses for Valentine's Day?

Nothing says love like a gift that will wilt and die in a few days.
Nothing says love like a gift that will wilt and die in a few days. / malerapaso/iStock via Getty Images

For people in satisfying and committed relationships—or at least pretending to be—there’s Valentine’s Day, a holiday in which romance comes with a price tag attached and warm feelings are represented by a fresh bouquet of red roses.

But why roses? And why red? How did they come to be synonymous with Valentine’s Day?

It comes down to a blend of the mythological and the practical. According to Reader’s Digest, red roses became entangled with love in Greek lore. “Some stories say that the first red rose was created when the Greek goddess Aphrodite was scratched by a white rose’s thorn, causing that rose to turn red,” folklorist Sara Cleto, PhD, told the outlet. “Others say that the first red rose grew on the ground where Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, died and the goddess’s tears fell.”

Properly dramatic, but the ascent of red roses as a romantic gift really grew in 19th-century England, when the idea of assigning meaning to different varieties of flowers grew. For those wishing to communicate their romantic interest in a potential mate, that meant sending floral bouquets.

Red roses in particular began to have connotations with love because, at the time, red dye was expensive and seen as a luxury. That a red rose provided similar visual appeal made it seem special.

Practically speaking, the idea has endured because unlike other flowers, red roses tolerate transportation pretty well. They’re a good blend of aesthetics and hardiness, two good traits for flowers that need to be portable as well as striking.

Roses are, of course, expensive, and if you’re more into the sentiment than the cash layout, you can find other ideas that can express your affection without contributing to the floral industry.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

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