If you gathered together one-hundred people from North America and asked them to picture a rose in their mind then raise their hand, I suspect you would see one-hundred hands raised. However, the results would probably be different if you asked them to picture a dahlia or a peony. Why is that?
Roses have grown in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth for millions of years. Fossils give us evidence of roses in Asia seventy-million-years ago, and in North America 35 million years ago.
“ … The fossil specimens found near Canyon City, Colorado, most closely resemble the existing species, Rosa nutkana, and Rosa palustris (the Swamp Rose). There is no way, of course, of knowing if either of these species actually survived through 35 million years to exist today…” (Haynes, n.d.)
“The earliest known gardening was the planting of roses along the most traveled regions of early nomadic humans. Earliest roses are known to have flourished 35 million-years ago and hips have been found in Europe and petrified rose wreaths have been unearthed from ancient Egyptian tombs.” (History of Roses, n.d.)
Ancient rulers used rose petals to impress their guests. Nero, in 1st century AD, dumped tons of rose petals on his dinner guests. Cleopatra had her living quarters filled with rose petals so that when Marc Antony met her, he would remember her and think of her whenever he smelled a rose.
The rose is mentioned not only in Christian literature but also in ancient Confucian and Buddhist religious documents as well. The first known paintings of roses are frescoes; the earliest example discovered in Crete around 1600 B.C.
“The apothecary rose, Rosa Gallica Officinalis, first recorded in the 13th century, was the foundation of a large industry near the city of Provins, France. Turned into jellies, powders, and oils, this rose was believed to cure a multitude of illnesses.” (History of Roses, n.d.)
Many legends have grown up about the rose. I could write pages of them, but I’m only going to share my favorite:
“In an Arabic legend, all roses were originally white until one night when the nightingale met a beautiful white rose and fell in love. At this stage nightingales were not known for their melodious song they merely croaked and chirped like any other bird. But now the nightingale’s love was so intense that he was inspired to sing for the first time. Eventually his love was such that he pressed himself to the flower and the thorns pierced his heart, coloring the rose red forever.” (History of Roses, n.d.)
The earliest roses were simple flowers with five petals and lots of stamens in the middle. People have been cultivating them as ornamental flowers for centuries.
“Ornamental roses have been cultivated for millennia, with the earliest known cultivation known to date from at least 5000 BC in Mediterranean countries, Persia, and China. Many thousands of rose hybrids and cultivars have been bred and selected for garden use as flowering plants. Most are double-flowered with many or all of the stamens having mutated into additional petals.” (Rose, 2017)
In the late eighteenth century, cultivated roses were introduced into Europe from China. Most modern-day roses can be traced back to this ancestry.
“The War of the Roses was a civil war in England that lasted from 1455-1487. The House of York adopted a white rose (R. alba), the House of Lancaster decided to take a red rose (R. Gallica). The winner of this war, Tudor Henry VII, merged his Lancastrian rose with the red rose of his York bride and thus created the Tudor Rose, the Rose of England.”
“Renewed interest in the garden rose came with the 19th century empress – Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonapart. This ambitious woman’s dream was to establish a rose garden in Malmaison containing a collection of all the roses of the world.” (History of Roses, n.d.)
For thousands of years, the rose has been used for perfume, medicine, to stave off wrinkles, dropped in wine to prevent drunkenness, and many other uses. Our society has become so enamored with the rose, that special meaning has been given to them based on their color.
White Roses: purity, chastity, and innocence. They are usually associated with new beginnings.
Yellow Roses: friendship and caring. They do not carry an undertone of romance like other roses.
Pink Roses: admiration, joy, and gratitude. Light pink blooms are = sweetness and innocence. Deep pink rose = gratitude and appreciation.
Orange Roses: passion, energy, intense desire. They rival only the red rose as messengers of passion in romance
Lavender Roses: enchantment. “Love at first sight.”
Blue Roses: unattainable – They aren’t natural in nature, so they represent the unattainable. “I can’t have you but I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Green Roses: (off white roses with shades of green) harmony, opulence, fertility. It is also indicative of peace and tranquility. They can symbolize best wishes for a prosperous new life or recovery of health.
Black Roses: death and farewell. (These are actually really dark red roses.) Sending black roses to someone means the death of a relationship.
Red roses: An expression of love, conveying deep emotions – love, longing or desire. They can also be used to convey respect, admiration, or devotion. There is even special significance placed on the number of red roses you give.
One red rose: I love you. “You are the one for me.”
Two red roses: “Let us be together.”
Three red roses: “You and me and our love for company.”
Six red roses: “I am halfway in love with you.”
Twelve red roses: “Be mine.”
Fifty red roses: “My love for you is limitless.”
But it doesn’t stop there. When you receive the roses, if you accept them with your right hand, you are indicating your agreement with the message. If you accept them with your left hand, you show your disagreement. I can just imagine Victorian England and the prim and proper ladies of society being so worried about the message being sent by the flowers and using the appropriate hand for accepting them. My husband loves to give me roses, but fortunately for both of us, he doesn’t care which hand I accept them with.
I haven’t found a definitive answer to explain why society loves roses so deeply, but I can tell you why I do. I love to run my finger across their silky, soft petals. It is a delicate smoothness that I’ve never experienced other than with a rose. I like to smell the different varieties and try to distinguish what makes each one unique. At night when the moon is bright, the rose scent is especially strong, and it fills my backyard with a delicious, delicate perfume. I love taking pictures of them, trying to capture their vibrancy or their elegance. I like to watch the butterflies and the bees as they hover over an open rose, or crawl among the stamens. I like to give roses as a gift and watch as joy fills the recipient's eyes.
But, maybe the reason we love them isn’t important. Maybe it’s only important that we open our hearts and delight in their beauty. Here’s one more picture – enjoy.
Haynes, J. (n.d.). History of Roses Part One A. Retrieved from American Rose Society: www.rose.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/History-of-Roses-Species-Part-A.pdf
History of Roses. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Flower Expert: http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/miscellaneous/flowersandhistory/history-of-roses
Rose. (2017, June 8). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose
Rose Flower Meanings. (2017, July 13). Retrieved from The Flower Expert: www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/flowermeanings/rose-flower-meanings
The History of Roses. (n.d.). Retrieved from University of Illinoise Extension: https://extension.illinois.edu/roses/history.cfm