Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…

The tradition of giving flowers to those you love

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flowers
Illo by Lizzy Choi.

On the Westside of Santa Cruz, florists buzz around Shay’s Flowers and Gifts. The shop is packed to the brim with roses, tulips, daisies and orchids. It’s a week before Valentine’s Day and orders have poured in as shops all across town prepare to deliver flowers throughout the city.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the holidays,” said UC Santa Cruz alumna and Shay’s Flowers and Gift Shop florist Amanda Lynn. “We have an overabundance of bloomed and unbloomed flower shipments and we also get deliveries more than once a week — three times as many.”

The tradition of giving flowers can be traced all the way back to the middle ages. Back then, flowers were commonly used to convey a message in a secret way — a red rose implied passion, but if you turned it upside down it meant anger. Flower dictionaries developed in the Victorian Era and spread these definitions throughout England and other parts of Europe.

It is a practice refined through generations to convey subtle emotions and messages. Yellow roses mean friendship, while pink ones mean a crush.

“While its original translations may have shifted over time, the notion that through flower symbolism we can express what we want to say (and may not be able to speak out loud) still holds true,” said Teleflora, a flower company, on their website.

Today, flowers are used to bring positivity and soft expression to all kinds of situations. They are a key factor to events and holidays spanning from bouquets in weddings to displays in funerals.

“We deliver for birthdays so you get happy people that are excited it’s their birthday,” said Ferrari Florist employee Marilyn Piazza. “We deliver for sympathy we deliver for anniversaries and holidays — pretty much every occasion.”

None of these occasions impact the industry more than Valentine’s day. Thirty-five percent of Americans are expected to buy flowers for Valentine’s Day this year, spending a total of $2 billion, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

“Women, and even men, love flowers,” said Piazza. “Everybody’s jazzed and there’s high energy.”

Piazza recalls one of her favorite Valentine’s Day deliveries as one in a Santa Cruz office building with a large arrangement. She made her way through the cubicles to find the women she was delivering the flowers to and everyone she passed stood up and asked who they were for.

The flowers turned out to be given as a gift to an employee from a good friend of theirs in Alaska who they hadn’t seen in a long time. The arrangement of flowers made the client’s day and raised the mood of the entire building, said Piazza.

And though the industry has changed, flowers have stayed with the times by allowing for customization. Messages attached to flowers have said everything from “Will you marry me” to “I’m glad I swiped right on tinder” said UCSC alumna and Shay’s Flowers and Gift Shop florist Amanda Lynn.

“When I look at a flower I see meaning versus something that’s just there,” said Lynn. “They are fragile but they’re also resilient. They grow in this world that we’ve taken over. They’ll grow in concrete tracks or chain link fences or up the side of buildings. They’re still here.”