Even though it is only February, there will soon be a mad smattering of blooms Islandwide.

It is not global warming causing the flowers to blossom early; rather, it is the lovefest of St. Valentine’s Day that brings out the buds. Flowers are one of the more common gifts bestowed on this special day, keeping florists very busy. Valentine’s Day is their number one holiday, accounting for about 36 per cent of their annual volume and 40 per cent of their yearly income.

Over 110 million roses are sold worldwide in the three-day period around Valentine’s Day; most of those are imported from South America. In this country, California is the biggest producer of roses — 60 per cent of U.S.-grown flowers sold come from that state.

The giving and appreciation of roses goes back a long way. Cleopatra’s palace floors were said to be carpeted with rose petals, and Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, grew more than 250 varieties. Confucius was a budding horticulturalist, too: he had more than 600 books on rose care in his library. Shakespeare wrote floridly, as is well known, and he embedded in his plays much floriography, or the language of flowers. He never missed an opportunity to write of roses: he mentions them over 50 times in his works while never forgetting that by any other name they would smell as sweet.

In modern times, 73 per cent of the roses bought and bestowed on others are bestowed by men. The type of roses that are given speaks volumes. Long-stem roses are the most coveted (and expensive), since for every long-stem rose, many rosebuds must be sacrificed. If you receive a rose with thorns removed and leaves intact, it means that the giver has hope of obtaining your love. Roses received with neither leaves nor thorns indicate that there is nothing to fear from this love. A pair of entwined roses predicts that an engagement or marriage is imminent. And I’ll bet that I don’t need to tell you what it means to receive dead roses.

Color matters even more. Red roses inspire true love and intense passion, and black roses even more so. White roses indicate mystery and innocence, and in mythology were thought to have grown from the tears of Venus as she cried over the loss of her beloved Adonis.

Pink roses are for grace and gratitude, while yellow symbolizes friendship. If it was love at first sight, give lilac roses, and if the passion is still strong, go for mauve. Blue roses are for those relationships that seem impossible and unattainable, because blue is an unlikely color for roses. Purple means that your love is forever.

Use your received roses well: add bud petals to bath water to conjure up a lover, and for singles, put red petals in a red velvet bag and pin it under your clothes to attract love.

If roses are a thorn in your side, you can opt for another type of flower for your beloved. Remember, they too have meaning, so choose carefully. Hydrangeas symbolize vanity, foxglove shows insincerity, buttercups are for childishness, and sweet peas say farewell. Irises bring good news and heather, good luck. Peonies are for shyness and primrose promises first love. If the plan is to propagate, try hollyhock and carnations for fertility and fruitfulness. If there is success, moss (though not a flower) represents maternal love.

That is quite a bouquet of floral lore! Let us hope whoever next gives you flowers keeps it simple and direct, and doesn’t mix and match the messages.

I don’t expect to receive flowers this Valentine’s Day, but that is okay with me. I fall in line with Edward Abbey who “held no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous.”


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.