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The History and Symbolism of Roses

  • 3 min read

The beloved rose has a more intimate relationship with the human race than any other of the world's beautiful blooms. Roses are among the earliest flowers to bloom on Earth, according to archeological evidence, having first appeared in Asia before spreading wild across the Northern Hemisphere.

Roses are 35 million years old, according to fossil evidence. Roses were first cultivated in gardens around 5,000 years ago, most likely in China. According to Chinese philosopher Confucius, hundreds of books about the flower were kept in the emperor's library by 500 B.C. Imperial adoration for the flower grew steadily, eventually approaching dangerous proportions. The blooms overtook so much of the nation's arable land (as well as its water supply) due to the Han dynasty emperors' rose breeding habits that the country began to experience food shortages.



During the Roman era, roses were also widely grown in the Middle East. Cleopatra was a known rose lover who used them in her attempt to romance Roman general Mark Antony (successfully, we might add). All fountains surrounding Cleopatra's palace were to be fully refreshed with rose water before Antony's visits, and the queen's personal chambers were to be filled ankle deep with rose petals.

A young playwright named William Shakespeare wrote the line "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" over a millennium later. The line is spoken by Juliet in Shakespeare's classic play Romeo and Juliet to remind Romeo that despite being members of opposing houses of rule, their love remains genuine and true. President Ronald Reagan named the rose the national floral emblem of the United States during a press conference in — where else? — the White House Rose Garden, almost exactly 500 years after Henry VII declared roses to be England's national flower.

 A assortment of roses and their symbolic meanings

It's no surprise, then, that the rose has over 150 species, including climbers, groundcovers, shrubby plants, and thousands of hybrids in a variety of shades and shapes, thanks to its long and illustrious history. The rose family is a large plant family with approximately 3,000 member.

When admiring the similar round, rose-shaped blooms of many fruit trees or berry vines, you can see the resemblance.

With so many roses to choose from, flower gifting has developed its own "language," with the sender supposedly communicating specific messages based on the color and number of blooms in the arrangement. Yellow roses represent friendship and red roses represent romantic love. Roses symbolize innocence and purity in white, passion and enthusiasm in orange, and admiration, thanks, and joy in pink.

The blue rose is a one-of-a-kind rose that does not exist in nature due to genetic limitations. The development of a dyed and cultivated variety with a blue-to-violet pigmentation was prompted by requests for blue roses.” Blue roses are said to represent mystery and accomplishing the impossible.

Roses that are priceless all over the world

Roses are generally a low-cost flower that can be used to craft a heartfelt message for a loved one in the United States, but some are not meant to be purchased. The Juliet rose, a pale, peach-colored garden rose first displayed at the 2006 Chelsea Flower Show and grown after a laborious 15-year cultivation period, is an example of this. This $15.8 million bloom is destined to stay in its planter for the rest of its life.

The “Thousand-year Rose,” which according to the Australian newspaper The Maitland Mercury is the single oldest-living rose bush known to man, may be the most valuable rose on the planet. The plant snakes nearly all the way up the 70-foot high and 30-foot wide outer wall of a cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany, as a Rosa canine variety, also known as a wild dog rose.



Humans have admired the rose for much more than just its beauty and scent throughout history. In fact, the Rosa gallica officinalis, or "Apothecary's Rose," is the oldest variety of rose and is used by herbalists to make elixirs, as its name suggests. Roses are still used for oils, perfumes, and medicinal purposes today. Rose hips are a good source of vitamin C and can be used in herbal teas. Rose water is often used in jellies or Asian foods.

Roses are thought to represent spiritual wellness in some religious circles, as the result of God's work in people's lives. Regardless of one's personal beliefs, Sophy Crown Flowers reminds us that this National Rose Month, we should all "stop and smell the roses" — that is, slow down and appreciate the beauty of life.


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