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Written by: Life Green Group and Catherine Browne

On the average Valentine’s day, 180 million cards will be sent, 11,000 children will be conceived, and 198 million red roses will be grown for the day, as the second most given gift after chocolates.

©Life Green Group
©Life Green Group

That’s a lot of trees that are cut down for cards, and space cleared for the monoculture of red roses – all for just one day of the year! The red rose has become synonymous with the 14th of February and romantic love, and because of this it has lost a bit of its originality.

Cut roses die, no matter how many copper coins or how many teaspoons of sugar you put in your vase, and plastic flowers eventually collect dust and get thrown away.

Floriography is the language of flowers – it’s the hidden meaning that each flower sends to its receiver. Floriography was used in the Middle East and became popular in the Victorian era, with books published on this secret language. Loads of flowers have contradictory meanings and their arrangement can also determine what message they deliver. So rather than just sending red roses this Valentine’s Day send some indigenous love in the form of these five gorgeous South African flowers, and send a secret message in doing so!

1. Send an African love letter to your lover with an Agapanthus

Symbolic meaning: A love letter or magical love

©Catherine Browne
©Catherine Browne

The African lily (Agapanthus orientalis) is not only just a love letter to your beloved, but in African culture it is regarded as both a magical and medicinal plant associated with fertility and pregnancy in isiXhosa and isiZulu culture. It is also believed that this plant can ward off thunderstorms. For hikers the long leaves of the Agapanthus can soothe footache.

This lily is widely used in South African gardens and there is now a bewildering amount of varieties and garden hybrids. So give a bunch to your lover on this day of hearts.

2. Send an arum lily to someone beautiful this Valentine’s Day

Symbolic meaning: Beauty

©Life Green Group

The arum lily, otherwise known as the pig lily, trumpet lily or calla lily, is a lily with many names despite the plant not being a true lily. This beautiful white plant is indigenous to southern Africa and considered a weed everywhere else. The flower of the arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) is actually a modified leaf called a spathe and not a blossom.

The picking of wild arums growing in Cape Town is illegal, and purchasing the beautiful bunches of arum from the side of the road is also discouraged by CapeNature in an attempt to protect the arum lily micro frog, which takes shelter in the dew collected in the arum lilies around marshy areas of the city. So we suggest that you buy an arum plant, not a cutting, from a local nursery and let your beautiful love grow in your garden this Valentine’s Day.

3. For courage and strength this Valentine’s, send a king protea

Symbolic meaning: Strength, courage and diversity

©Catherine Browne
©Catherine Browne

The proteas inherited their name from the Greek god Proteus, the shape shifter. Proteus, son of Poseidon, was a lazy prophet and used to hide from people by changing his shape. Like him, proteas also come in many forms, shapes and sizes, with up to 1,400 varieties, hence they were named after Proteus.

Proteas, sugarbirds and sunbirds have a love affair like no other! The Cape sugarbird is one of six endemic birds to the fynbos biome, and it loves the king protea’s nectar. You can buy large bunches of king proteas (Protea cynaroides) from Kirstenbosch or you can alternatively grow them in your Western Cape garden to keep the sunbirds happy, as well as your sweetheart.

4. Give a bird of paradise for that magnificent person who brings you joy

Symbolic meaning: Joyfulness and magnificence

©Catherine Browne
©Catherine Browne

Structured and dramatic, with an orange and blue flower that looks like a Japanese origami crane, the strelizia is more commonly known as the crane flower or bird of paradise.

These large plants, with their big banana-like leaves are popular among landscapers and make for wonderful over-the-top flower arrangements.

The endemic strelizia doesn’t flower in summer, but a sustainable alternative is to buy a bunch from the local beadsmen who have managed to replicate this plant in exquisite beads and wire.

©Catherine Browne

5. Want to bring a gift of cheer to that special someone? Then give them a Gerbera daisy

Symbolic meaning: Cheerfulness, purity and innocence

©Life Green Group

The Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) was discovered in Barberton, South Africa in 1884, and today the many colourful hybrids make it one of the most popular flowers in the world. Its other name is the Transvaal daisy, and it comes in many bright and merry hues.

Cupid’s arrows always fly for the Transvaal daisy, but it’s nice to bring your partner some extra cheer this Valentine’s Day with a bunch of Gerbara daisies.


The Botanical Society of South Africa promotes the conservation, cultivation, study and wise use of indigenous flora. Find out more about the Botanical Society of South Africa and how you could also gift a BotSoc membership to your loved ones this Valentine’s Day. BotSoc Membership allows you and your loved one(s) free access to all SANBI National Botanical Gardens throughout the year for all those romantic walks and picnics – just join here. You can also support the Botanical Society with your MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet card when shopping for chocolates and other treats for your significant other at partner stores. Simply make the Botanical Society your beneficiary and support them by swiping when you shop in the name of love.

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Africa Geographic Travel
MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet

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