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Say it With Flowers: Sweet (and Not So) Valentines

(Image credit: stock.xchng.)

Each February in the United States, humans engage in a ritual that is exhilarating for some, and terrifying for most. Valentine's Day is upon us, bringing with it a host of high-pressure decisions. What should you do for that special someone on Feb. 14? Stop your worrying and look no further.

Here's a little primer, prepared especially for the confused and tongue-tied among you. No more wondering what your Valentine's Day gift really means: Each of the blooms listed herein sends a message, which we've helpfully translated to improve communication between lovebirds.

This year, let the Earth's bounty from the usual suspects to the bizarre do the talking for you, no matter what it is you're trying to say.

Roses (genus Rosa) "I'm physically attracted to you."

This is an easy one, which is why it's first on the list. This flower delivers a simple message without any frilly promises. Whether they want to marry you or just make out with you, the person who gives you this traditional favorite definitely thinks you're cute.

You will have to put in some work to keep these thirsty flowers alive. Cut the stems at an angle, under water, and remove any leaves that might fall below a vase's waterline to keep out intruding bacteria. Roses, along with raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, belong to the Rosoideae subfamily, a grouping within the Rosaceae family of plants.

Roses are among the top 10 cut flowers imported to the United States . In 2010, 320.8 million cut flower stems were brought into the country, mostly from Colombia.

(Image credit: Bureau of Land Management.)

Meadowfoam (genus Limnanthes) "Let's do breakfast. Not just tomorrow, but every morning."

Unfussy, at home in fertile soil, and with a pleasing, sweet smell, once blooming, these annuals will keep growing year after year. These dainty, unassuming yellow-and-white blooms may be the most romantic of the bunch, but only because of their nickname: the poached egg plant, so named because the flowers are yellow in the center, and white around the edges.

Meadowfoam is native to California and the Pacific Northwest, and, although it is best known for its sweet looks, the plant has practical applications as well. Oil pressed from the seeds is similar to jojoba oil, and can be used in detergents, as a lubricant, and has been researched for its potential use in industrial applications.

(Image credit: stock.xchng.)

Living stones (genus Lithops) "I'm a solid person, and I'll stick with you through the hard times."

If you are the strong, silent type, send a message to your S.O. with these hardy little plants, known as Lithops. Lithops are succulents, a type of plant suited to desert life, with thick, fleshy leaves that hold water to sustain the plants in a hot, dry climate.

Native to southern Africa, the rock-like appearance of Lithops helps them blend in well with their surroundings. (One of the Lithops shown here is blooming. You can a second one just above the yellow flower.)The rounded, turgid leaves not only hold moisture to keep the plant alive, but they are a form of camouflage. Animals in search of a meal are less likely to notice these plants since they look like pebbles. Some are green, but many Lithops are brownish, grayish or sand-colored.

Lithops are tough and can weather droughts and hard times, or, when nestled on a windowsill, a neglectful owner.

(Image credit: stock.xchng.)

Aloe vera (Aloe vera) "I respect you. And, uh, I think I'm attracted to you. I'm a little on the fence."

Like Lithops, aloe is a succulent desert-ready plants that store water in their fleshy leaves.

Aloe vera plants require little maintenance, putting up with infrequent watering, and other minor annoyances. However, be aware: These plants can quickly get too big for their pots, and may demand a transplant to a larger domain.

Aloe plants are native to Africa, but it's hard to pin down exactly where they come from. Humans have been growing aloe across the globe for centuries for the gooey gel hidden inside its leaves, which is both consumed and applied topically. The older plants sometimes flower, and sprout a tall stalk crowned with spiky orange blooms.

(Image credit: Chino Basin Water Conservation District.)

Silver Lace (aka Society Garlic) (Tulbaghia violacea) "I'd like to see where this is going."

With spiky lilac blooms on 1-to-2-foot stalks, the leaves of this plant emit a pungent, garlicky smell when bruised or even jostled by a light breeze. Some gardeners suggest using its leaves in salads or in cooking. And what signals a willingness to nest more than preparing a meal together?

This attractive plant, native to South Africa, grows at a medium pace, and does well both in and out of doors. Although it hails from a warmer climate, the plant does well in temperate areas, and is used widely across the United States in landscaping.

"It's pretty. Not spectacular," said Marlene Simon, nursery technician at the University of California Davis Botanical Conservatory. "If you need garlic that's not what I would go to. But if you're desperate...."

(Image credit: Public Domain.)

Dieffenbachia or dumbcane (genus Dieffenbachia) "Please, just let me do my crossword in peace sometimes!! I love you, but can you keep it down?"

If you get one of these plants, your loved one may actually be hoping to receive the silent treatment.

If chewed, calcium oxalate crystals concentrated in the leaves of this common house plant cause swelling and paralysis of the lips, mouth and tongue, rendering the unlucky consumer temporarily speechless. However, this plant is no joke. If ingested, dumbcane can be poisonous, and the momentary swelling it brings can block air passages, leading to suffocation.

Native to South America, dieffenbachia has been bred and hybridized extensively, and there are many varieties and colors sold as house plants. You'll want to be gentle with your dieffenbachia. The planet emits a skunky odor when bruised.

(Image credit: Lytton John Musselman.)

Hydnora africana "I don't think things are really working out. However, I'm too cowardly to break up with you all at once, so I will slowly, gradually drive you insane by sabotaging this so-called relationship."

This parasitic flower is sneaky. The largest part of the plant remains hidden underground, feeding on the roots of a host plant. Finally, a single, feces-scented flower emerges from the soil, attracting dung beetles with its nasty smell but then trapping the hapless beetles within its fleshy interior. Stiff bristles keep the insects trapped inside, where the beetles, covered with the Hydnora's pollen, unknowingly perform pollination duties. The beetles aren't released until the flower fully opens.

The Hydnora africana is native to Africa, and the flowers only emerge after there's been sufficient rain. It can take a full year before a flower reaches maturity.

(Image credit: Jeff Hillyer/WIU.)

Corpse flower (Titan arum) "It's over."

There are cheaper, easier ways to break up with someone, but then again, why not go out in a blaze of malodorous glory?

These hulking, person-size flowers bloom incredibly rarely, but when they do the smell of rotting flesh fills the air.

The corpse flower is native to the rain forests of Indonesia, and uses its powerful odor to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies that normally feed on rotting flesh. The insects provide pollinating services to the stinky plants, which usually begin to open at midnight, and typically complete their horrifying bloom before the following afternoon.

(Image credit: stock.xchng.)

Tobacco flowers (genus Nicotiana) "I wish you were dead."

There's really nothing else to say. Except that the blooms, which come in a variety of colors, truly are lovely and smell sweet.

"They're very pretty, and people do grow them for the flowers," Simon said. "They have a long bloom period."

Humans have cultivated tobacco plants, native to the tropical parts of the Americas, since pre-Columbian times. Although this pretty plant is best known for its leaves, people grow it in their gardens for its showy blooms and heady scent, which is especially powerful at night. The plants can get up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall.

Reach Andrea Mustain at Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.