Roses: Flower Facts, Symbolic Meanings, and a Poem of Love
Roses are beautiful flowers that have long been a symbol of love. They belong to the genus Rosa, which exists in both wild and cultivated forms. A wonderful variety of cultivated roses exist today. Flowers of many different colors are available. Some produce an enchanting fragrance to add to their attraction.
Roses have been admired by humans since ancient times. They are useful plants as well as being ornamental. An aromatic and flavorful oil can be extracted from their petals. This oil has culinary and cosmetic uses and may have health benefits as well. Rose water captures the essence of the flowers in a more dilute form but is still valuable.
Over the years, roses have come to symbolize more than love. Each of the main flower colors is associated with a particular symbolic meaning. For people interested in giving a gift of flowers, these meanings may be significant.
Fossil evidence suggests that the first wild roses appeared at least 35 million years ago. Cultivation of the flowers is thought to have begun about 5000 years ago and most likely started in China.
A History Highlight: Roses in Ancient Rome
Roses were very popular in Ancient Rome. Their petals were strewn on the floor as a carpet during celebrations. They were also used as confetti, for perfume and cosmetics, and for medicinal purposes.
The modern term "sub rosa", which means "under the rose", is used to describe a secret or confidential meeting. It's believed to have originated from the Ancent Roman habit of hanging a rose over a table where people were having a private discussion.
The Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses took place in fifteenth century England. They involved a series of fights between two rival groups, or houses, who were competing for the throne. The symbol of the House of Lancaster was a red rose while the symbol of the House of York was a white one.
After many years of conflict, Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two factions and ending the wars, although not all of the fighting. Henry took the throne of England and was known as Henry Vll. The symbols of the two roses were merged to create the Tudor rose, which is still the emblem of England.
Josephine Bonaparte and the Château de Malmaison
Another highlight in the history of roses has a connection to Napoleon. Napoleon Bonaparte's wife Josephine established a large collection of roses in a house near Paris that she bought in 1799. The house was named Château de Malmaison. Josephine and her husband both lived in the house, but it was Josephine who worked to turn the grounds into "the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe".
The amazing garden eventually contained many exotic plants and animals, including a famous rose garden with about 250 different types of roses. The animals were allowed to wander freely through the grounds. At various times the animal collection included zebras, kangaroos, ostriches, emus, black swans, llamas, gazelles, and even a seal. Today the house, or castle, is maintained as a museum.
Types of Roses
There are many types of roses in existence today, which adds to the joy for admirers of the flowers. The blossoms vary in color, appearance, fragrance and blooming frequency. Some popular types are described below.
Hybrid Tea - has the typical flower that most people think of when they hear the word "rose" or when they go to a florist to buy roses as a gift; in general, the flower is a single bloom borne on a long stem
Polyantha - has small flowers borne in thick clusters
Floribunda - created by a cross between hydrid tea roses and polyantha roses; generally has small flowers borne in clusters; the bush and flowers tend to be larger than those of polyantha roses
Grandiflora - created by a cross between hybrid tea roses and floribunda roses; the flowers are generally large and may be borne in clusters or singly on a long stem
Climbing - climb and drape attractively over trellises, fences, and walls
Miniature - has very small blossoms and can be grown in tight places such as containers, rock gardens, and borders
Old Garden - those that were known before 1867, which was the year in which the first hybrid tea rose was created
Beautiful Flowers for a Garden
Single and Double Roses
Cultivated roses may have single or double petals. The single roses have one row of four to eight petals that spread outwards, revealing the stamens and pistil in the middle of the flower. These flowers resemble the wild roses with their five petals. Double roses have more than one row of petals. The petals may be so numerous in some flowers that they hide the reproductive structures in the center of the flower.
Fragrance and Oil
Rose petals are used to make an oil, which is sometimes known as attar of roses, and a product called rose water. The oil and the water are used to flavor foods and provide a delightful aroma to perfumes and cosmetics. The petals themselves may be valued for their lovely scent or taste.
Rose oil may also have health benefits, including the ability to act as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory substance. In some countries, extracting the oil from rose petals is a major industry. Flowers that are especially aromatic are chosen for this extraction.
The fruits of roses are known as hips. The hips are edible and taste like apples. Some people use rose hips to make jelly, jam, or tea. The seeds in the hips contain an oil that is used by the cosmetics industry.
Not all roses are strongly scented, but they are all beautiful. Today there are many different varieties available in flower stores or nurseries. Breeding and growing roses is done by both professionals and by hobbyists. The flowers are loved by many people.
Rose Colors and their Symbolic Meanings
A rose color can have a different meaning for different people. Often people like a color simply because it's beautiful. It's fun to look at the traditional meanings of the colors, though.
- Red - romantic love
- Pink - gratitude and appreciation
- Orange - desire and passion
- Yellow - friendship
- Lavender - enchantment or love at first sight
- White - innocence or purity of love
Today, red roses are a frequent symbol of true love and are a traditional Valentine's Day gift. In the past, white roses have been used to symbolize love. Even today, the white flowers are often referred to as "bridal roses" and are used at weddings. They're also used to express love for a deceased person at a funeral.
Black, Blue, and Green Roses
Cultivated roses have a gorgeous array of colors. There are no black or blue roses, however. Breeders are trying hard to create them, but the colors are proving to be elusive.
Although no truly black rose exists, some dark red or deep purple ones may come close to being black in appearance. (The photos of pure black roses seen on some websites are photoshopped.) Similarly, no truly blue rose exists, although some mauve or lavender ones may look almost blue.
A green rose does exist (Rosa chinensis viridiflora). The rows of green "petals" of the flower are actually sepals, however. The flower has no stamens or stigma, doesn't produce seeds, and is propagated by cuttings.
In most flowers, the sepals are green, leaf-like structures found directly underneath the flower. They protect the flower bud before it opens.
The Color of Roses - A Poll
What is your favorite rose color?
Even fictional characters may appreciate the beautiful rose and its message of love and gratitude, as in my poem below.
Persuasion to Love
I walked into the garden of my mind,
the place where children played
and flowers bloomed,
and tried to bring the past into the now,
to fill the crowded void with love and joy
and find the family that we were.
I needed those from life before,
to see my mother's loving smile,
my father young and vigorous,
my sister innocent and kind.
They could not come to comfort me
nor change reality.
They could not help the outer world,
the wilderness of time.
I woke from painful reverie
to face the lonely scene.
A landscape alien and sad,
unruly plants usurping land that once was home
with greedy growth obscuring what was known,
and thorns projecting animosity.
The house demolished, garden lost,
Now Nature was in charge,
guarding spoils jealously
with secrets all her own.
I yearned to find an artifact,
or outline on the ground,
a solid memory,
a remnant of my younger life
and the home that used to be.
I pushed my way through prickled stems
that tore into my skin
and searched with care and diligence.
I would not let them win.
Hours passed, and still no sign,
as though home had never been,
until I saw a tiny fleck of pink
shining through my tears.
I wiped my eyes, yet color stayed.
I reached out to the source
and saw in wonderment and hope
a little garden rose.
My mother's rose bed
on this spot,
a survivor from the past,
a hidden gem of loveliness,
resilient and brave.
I moved towards the glorious form
greeted by a scented breeze
released in gratitude.
"Remember me," the whisper said
entwining with my thoughts,
desire and love in equal parts,
connection at its best.
I kissed the rose with gentleness,
returning love in kind,
then cleared a space around the flower
to make a habitat,
hidden by the taller plants
and protected by their thorns.
I photographed the beauty seen,
new memories forming fast,
then stayed beside her peacefully,
communing with the past.
Eventually I had to leave
as darkness filled the air
and wished the rose sweet happiness,
a future safe and long.
My journey home was bittersweet,
but hopeful now, at last.
The tedium of life perhaps
pierced through by sunny days
My camera full of images
would help the memories stay,
but better still, by far,
the image in my mind.
© 2013 Linda Crampton