A Dozen Roses: When and Why We Give

A dozen roses are a popular floral gift. But do you know why they're so popular? Where the idea originated? Or when the perfect time is to give? We'll tell you! 

There's nothing like the feeling you get when your suitor sends you a dozen red roses. Love, fidelity, and passion are all translated perfectly through flowers and a dozen roses is one of the most popular floral messages one can send. But did you ever wonder why?

Here's a primer on the origins and meaning of the gift of a dozen roses.

A Bit on flowers and the Language of Flowers

We tend to innately subscribe meanings to certain flowers. This is because we've been exposed to certain imagery and customs through popular culture. But did you know the custom of giving flowers was once an entire language?

Floriography, or the language of flowers, gained popularity as a means of coded communication during the Victorian era. But many don't know the technique itself dates back to thousands of years before that. Traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East all practiced floriography.

The Hebrew Bible makes extensive use of plants and flowers as symbols. The Song of Songs is one of the earliest recorded uses of flowers to symbolize love and lovers.

In the Elizabethan era, William Shakespeare ascribed extensive meaning to flowers and plants in his plays. In Hamlet, the character Ophelia explains the symbolic meaning of many flowers including pansies, rosemary, daisies, and violets.

The language of flowers started to gain traction in Europe during the Regency era. Jane Austen was one of many authors who used flower meanings in her stories.

Then in 1819 Louise Cortambert -- writing under the pseudonym, Charlotte de Latour -- published Le Langage Des Fleurs (The Language of Flowers). Though there had been books on floriography and flower meanings published before, Le Langage Des Fleurs was the most popular. It kicked off the height of floriography popularity in the Victorian era.

Many of the meanings we attribute to flowers today can be traced back to the Victorian era. People would send messages of intent and feeling through arrangements of certain flowers. The language of flowers offered lovers, in particular, a way to romance each other without breaking with the strict social conventions of the time.

Which brings us to the dozen roses.

The Significance of Twelve

Twelve is a number of significance in many ways.

Mathematically speaking, twelve is a highly composite number. It's also what's called a sublime number. This means it has a perfect number of divisors and the sum of its divisors are also a perfect number.

It also plays a big part in our measurement of time.

Months and Days

Not many people know that there were originally ten months in a year. It was Julius Caesar who added January and February on the advice of his astronomers. They explained to him the need to match their calendar to the lunar cycle and thus the seasons. There are just over twelve lunar cycles in a year which is why we also have leap years.

Our twenty-four hour day -- twelve hours for day and night -- comes from the ancient Egyptians. They divided the daylight hours into ten hours using devices like shadow clocks. Two extra hours -- called the twilight hours -- were added to the beginning and end of the day to make up twelve. Their division of the nighttime hours was based on the observation of the stars.

The mathematical and astronomical significance of the number twelve is likely what cemented it as a number denoting completeness or perfection.

Religion, History, and Literature

Twelve has been used extensively as a symbolic number throughout religion and history. There are twelve apostles of Jesus in the Christian bible. There are twelve "Jyotirlingas" in Hindu Shaivism. In ancient Greek religion, there are twelve principal gods in the pantheon. Hercules is also said to have enacted out twelve labors.

In literature, we have the twelve knights of the roundtable and Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

Twelve hasn't fallen out of use in the modern era either. There are twelve function keys on the typical computer keyboard and twelve keys on the standard telephone (1 through 9, 0, * and #).

Which brings us back to flowers.

The Dozen Roses

Twelve donates perfection or completeness, so a dozen roses symbolize the completeness of the emotion being communicated. You're not just saying "I love you" with twelve red roses, you're saying, "I love you completely".

But red isn't the only color with meaning when it comes to a dozen roses.

The Significance of Colour

Colour influences our behaviors and perceptions in ways that are often not obvious to us. Studies have shown that color has a significant impact on how things taste. The color of our pills or other drugs not only aids in marketing, it actually has a proven placebo effect.

The study of color hues as a determinant of human behavior is called color psychology and it's a fascinating field.

But while color can influence an individual, the effect varies widely according to a number of factors. Gender, age, culture, and context all influence how a person perceives color. For instance, red symbolizes blood, war, and passion in the western world, but in China, it symbolizes luck, happiness, and joy. Conversely, the color of happiness and joy in western societies -- yellow -- symbolizes power, royalty, and prosperity in traditional Chinese culture.

To make things even more complicated, the color yellow has recently come to indicate pornography in publications in China, demonstrating that time also plays a factor in our perceptions.

The color of flowers can influence their meaning significantly and roses are no exception. Here are a few of the basics:


Red is the most well-known of the roses. Whether it's a single red rose in the teeth of Gomez Addams or a dozen roses presented to the romantic interest at the culmination of a romance movie - red roses are the undeniable symbol of true love.

But did you know that symbolism isn't universal?

In China, for instance, the red of both the Chinese rose and the pomegranate flower denotes luck. Red roses in China are often traditional birthday or graduation gifts.

Red roses in Russia are a neutral color and are suitable gifts for all occasions. Just make sure you're not handing over an even number of blooms! Even numbered bouquets are considered the height of bad luck in Russia and are traditionally associated with death.


Pink traditionally symbolizes grace and elegance, but different hues of pink roses come with their own connotations.

Dark pink roses mean appreciation and gratitude and are traditionally a way to express thanks. Light pink roses symbolize admiration and gentleness, making a gift of them ideal for expressing sympathy.


Context is key with yellow roses. Yellow is the color of the sun and happiness. It typically denotes friendship and joy in western society without the connotation of romance that the other colors often carry. For this reason, a dozen roses of a yellow hue are often given as "get well" bouquet.

On the other hand, if you send yellow blooms to your sweetheart, they can denote jealousy, infidelity, or the decline of love.

Yellow also has varying international connotations.

In Russia, yellow roses are a symbol of separation. China too uses yellow roses to convey a message of "forget about me". Yellow is also sometimes associated with death in China. In Japan, yellow roses indicate jealousy.


Tread lightly with white roses. In western society the white rose is often used in weddings, lending it the meanings of virtue, unity, and the pureness of a new love. Other cultures, not so much.

White is also a symbol of purity in China, but white roses and other flowers are symbols of death. Giving your Chinese girlfriend a dozen white roses on valentines day is the height of miscommunication.

In Russia and Japan, white roses can also mean silence and innocence.


Orange roses are a relatively new rose on the block. It was only around the turn of the twentieth century that cultivators began experimenting with crossbreeding, cultivating the orange rose from a cross between yellow and red roses.

Because of this, orange roses often lend a modern feeling to any occasion. They symbolize enthusiasm and desire. Adding orange as a mixer to another dozen roses is a great way to lend the bouquet feelings of vitality and vibrancy.


Truly black roses do exist in nature but only in Tibet. The black roses typically seen in western culture are extremely dark shades of red, purple, or maroon, but they carry the connotations of the black rose nonetheless.

The color black is synonymous with death and mourning in western culture, and the same can be said of black roses. They're also indicative of the occult or mystery. A dark bouquet of a dozen roses makes a striking Halloween centerpiece.

Times to Give a Dozen Roses

It can be said that any day is a good day to receive a dozen roses, and it's not just florists saying it. Studies have shown that receiving flowers has numerous positive effects on one's mental well-being. Patients in the hospital that receive flowers need less post-operative pain medication and are less anxious and tired. Cognitive performance is better in offices with plants than without them.

Flowers are, in a word, one of the best pick-me-ups we can give each other. But what about specific occasions?

Valentine's Day

Valentine's day is THE day of flower giving.

It originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring Valentinus, the name given to one or more early saints. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet, was the first to associate Valentine's day with romance in his poem Parlement of Foules written in 1382. The tradition flourished from there until it was common to express one's love with gifts of flowers, confectionary, and cards.

Today, Valentine's day is as much a commercial celebration as it is a traditional one. The hand-written valentines of old have been replaced by mass-produced cards and confectionary companies rejoice at the approach of February fourteenth.

But the tradition of flower giving has retained its air of romantic sentiment.

A dozen roses in red or pink is the traditional gift of romance while a mix of yellow and orange roses can symbolize friendship transitioning into something more.

Mother's Day

Celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to ancient civilizations, particularly the Greeks and Romans, who held festivals to honor the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele. More modern precedents for Mother's Day include the early Christian festival, Mothering Sunday, or more recently in America, the advent of Mother's Day Work Clubs by Ann Reeves Jarvis.

Jarvis' daughter, Anna Jarvis, is actually the reason Mother's Day appears as a holiday on modern American calendars. Following her mother's death in 1905, Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother's Day celebration in her mother's memory. She followed this with a letter campaign petitioning newspapers and politicians to add the day to the national calendar.

Mother's Day has since remained a celebration of mothers and their achievements. It's traditional to bring one's mother a gift, a card, and, of course, flowers.

A dozen roses in pink or yellow are ideal for Mothers Day. Both signify appreciation, friendship, and love.


Flowers have long been used to convey feelings of contriteness and apology and for good reason. They're the perfect way to convey meaning and sentiment in a non-invasive manner.

A mixed dozen roses of both red and white are a great way to say, "I'm sorry". The red indicates love and fidelity while white generally means purity and silence. Yellow roses can also be appropriate as they represent friendship and innocence, making them ideal to apologize to a friend for a misstep.

Expressions of Sympathy

Flowers as expressions of sympathy is a well-established tradition. It has roots in spiritual as well as practical uses. A flowers life is fleeting and so it can symbolize the transitory life of man. For this reason, a gift of a dozen white or yellow roses can be the perfect expression of one's sympathy for the loss of a loved one.

Flowers Are a Universal Language

There's a flower for every sentiment, but roses truly are the most versatile of the family. Whether you're expressing thanks, apologizing for a broken heart, or celebrating a new love, a dozen roses will give your sentiment an air of sincerity and tradition.

Now that you're fluent in the language of roses, why not send a dozen to your loved one? We have traditional long-stemmed roses, Roses with Assorted Flowers, and compact arrangements -- roses for every occasion!