This article belongs on a GARDENING WEBSITE, in fact on The Best Gardening Website, Dave's Garden, because all of those things mentioned above would not be possible without plants!
Take the flowers, which even the most Neanderthal man knows he should grab for his woman on the way home to the cave. The few days leading up to Valentine's Day are the equivalent of The Entire Christmas Shopping Season from October to January for a florist! On February 14, last-minute shoppers will find the price on even that last, tired dozen red roses higher than during the rest of the year. This is not because your local florist is trying to make a killing; your local florist is suffering because the wholesalers want to make a profit too, and so do the growers. Online florists, big box stores and grocery stores that sell flowers have made life a lot harder for your local florist in the last few years. Flowers aren't exactly a commodity that can be stockpiled, like, say, sneakers. Flowers must be fresh, they have to travel well for thousands of miles from their equatorial plantations to that guy on the street corner, and they've ALL must be ready on that one day. So be kind to your local florist, who's probably having a bad day.
OK, the cards are definitely a result of marketing by the big card company and all the smaller ones that bask in its reflected glory. I was surprised to learn at the Emotions Greeting Cards online museum that paper Valentines have been around since 1400. This one on the right is from 1909! Except for Christmas cards, more cards are exchanged on Valentine's Day than on any other holiday. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately 150 million Valentine greeting cards are expected to be exchanged in February, 2012, and that figure does not include the prepackaged classroom greeting cards. That's a lot of dead trees, a fact of which we tree-hugging gardeners should be aware! Should we come out against greeting cards, or just make sure they are recycled or composted? I know my husband is responsible for two or three of those 150 million just in trying to settle on the perfect card for me; he can never choose just one. I recommend smaller boutique cards over gigantic companies, but they don't sell those within 2 miles of our house. I try to recycle tactfully.
And chocolate, as I'm sure you know by now, comes from Theobroma cacao, an understory tropical shade plant whose fruit or beans were prized by the Aztecs and brought to Europe from the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Without the Aztecs and Montezuma, there would be no Valentine's Day as we know it. Impossible to believe? Maybe so. But true. Add bitter cocoa nibs to milk, sugar and vanilla, process delicately, and voila. *Read this New York Times article for more information on chocolate's aphrodisiac properties.
As for Saint Valentine the person, there are apparently at least three different people who are reputed to have been St. Valentine, as well as a Roman fertility ritual that was celebrated around February 15. So I'll tell you the legend I like best! There was a priest named Valentine.... and this was in a time when the Romans were conscripting young men into the Roman army. They discovered that single men made better soldiers than married men did; the single men had no worries about sacrificing their lives because they had no wives or chidren at home to think about. The Romans decided that banning young men from being married would make for a better army. (Makes no sense to me either.) So, although young men continued to court and fall in love as they always have and always will, they were not allowed to be married. This angered one young priest, Valentine. He continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies for pairs of young lovers against the wishes of the Roman high command. This earned him a death sentence from the Romans, but he is alleged to have written someone a note from his jail cell and signed it "from your Valentine." February 14 is said to be the anniversary of the day of his martyrdom. Ever since, February 14, or Saint Valentine's Day, has been associated with love and romance.
In fact, proposals of marriage and actual weddings surge on Valentines Day! If you're planning a February 14, 2013 wedding, better book your site now; it's one of the most popular dates. CNN offers the 10 sweetest locations for fairytale proposals on Valentines Day, The Knot suggests 10 of the best ways to propose on Valentines Day, and you can even hire an event planner for your Valentines Day proposal to assist with those annoying little details like hot air balloons and orchestras.
So however you decide to celebrate on February 14, whether you're thinking of Roman fertility rituals or a medieval saint, whether you're old or young, single or otherwise, remember that none of it would be possible without plants, and offer a silent word of thanks for plants.
pictures are from couhdra at morguefile.com, Rachel Arguelles, and from wikipedia commons.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 14, 2012. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)