Business is blossoming at the world's biggest flower auction and distribution centre, FloraHolland, based in Aalsmeer, the Netherlands, as it gears up for Valentine's Day on Saturday.

Workers drive through halls the size of the state of Monaco at the distribution centre to make sure that hundreds of millions of flowers are rapidly delivered to their new owners.

The red rose, the traditional symbol of love for upcoming Valentine's Day celebrations, is this year facing stiff competition from the budding popularity of an iconic Dutch symbol: the tulip.

"Well, on Valentines of course everybody thinks about a rose and a red rose especially, that's the queen of the flowers during the whole year, but especially during Valentine. There are all different kinds of red we sell these days, but also the tulip, a very Dutch symbol, that's also very popular today," said FloraHolland spokesman Lex van Horssen.

"To compare them, we sell about one hundred million pieces of roses, but we also sell about one hundred million pieces of tulips these days, very much in the red colour or any sort of red you can imagine."

FloraHolland does not own the flowers it has in store, but rather manages their distribution between sellers and buyers.

Flowers mostly come from Kenya, Ethiopia and Israel, while Germany, UK, France, Italy and Russia are the biggest buyers.

The decision by Russia to ban imports of fruit and vegetables from Europe in response to Western sanctions has not directly impacted sales, as the ban does not include flowers and plants. The state of the Russian economy, however, has nonetheless made purchasing flowers more expensive than usual.

"It's really bad for the growers of vegetables and fruit, because they are banned. Flowers and plants are not, but there is an effect, because the value of the rouble compared to the euro, that's really bad at this moment, so for the Russian consumer, flowers are more expensive than normal," van Horssen said.

FloraHolland, which has an annual turnover of €4.5bn (£2.94bn) and over 3,500 employees, sells more than 12 billion flowers and plants every year.