Roses are red, violets are blue: Why red roses are synonymous with Valentine’s Day

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Updated Feb 14, 2024
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While Cupid’s arrow might not have struck the mass majority of the population today, there’s no doubt that people are still celebrating Valentine’s Day one way or another.

All around the country and world gifts will be exchanged at high rates today, and according to, approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. Besides sending cards, one of the most popular items sent on this holiday is the rose; more specifically the red rose.

But when exactly did people begin sending roses as tokens of affection, and what is it about the red rose that screams love?

According to Martha Stewart’s website and the University of Illinois Extension, roses have a rich, symbolic, and historic past behind them full of romance and desire.

During Roman times, roses were grown extensively in the Middle East, and they were used for a myriad of purposes. Large rose gardens were also established in the south of Rome, but after the fall of the Roman Empire, the popularity of the rose began to fall.

For a more detailed history of the rose, click here.

While we’re on the subject of Roman times, let’s take just a moment to review the history of Valentine’s Day.

While the full history of Valentine’s Day may be shrouded in a bit of mystery, overall history says that the holiday all began when the Roman emperor Claudius II decided that single men made more effective soldiers. With this in mind, he outlawed marriage for young men, but a young priest named Valentine defied this law and continued to marry couples in secret.

Once Valentine was discovered, he was sentenced to death, and while in prison he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before being put to death, he wrote the woman a letter and signed it, “From Your Valentine,” which is still a popular sign-off phrase used in Valentine’s Day cards today.

Getting back to roses and Valentine’s Day, have you ever found yourself wondering why exactly it’s always the red rose that’s associated with this holiday? I’m willing to bet it’s not because the Queen of Hearts ordered her guards to paint them that color…

According to Martha Stewart’s website, this tradition goes back to the nineteenth century when Victorians used floral arrangements and bouquets to send messages to love interests to show they were actually interested. This act, formally known as floriography, solidified the role roses would play for years to come in terms of professions of love.

With floriography, or “the language of flowers,” everything down to the type of flower, color, and arrangement used communicated a unique message to the receiver.

But the flower itself is not the only reason roses are the preferred plant for professing devotion. Red roses symbolize passion and true love, which go hand in hand with this infatuation-filled holiday.

Legend also has it that due to their representation of strong feelings, roses were rumored to be the favorite flower of Venus/Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This resulted in many people beginning to give roses to those they loved and cherished.

Roses, however, are not the one and only flower/plant that has the chance to shine on Valentine’s Day. As you well know, some people prefer flowers that aren’t “traditional” like roses, and all flowers can be made into attractive arrangements. Some people even prefer the gift of a potted plant. And as with any gift, it's the thought put into it that really matters.

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