From embodying love and beauty, to symbolizing war and politics, roses have taken on many different meanings throughout the ages. While they might mean different things to everyone, there’s one thing they have in common: they’re not to love. Whether you’re a gardener, backyard enthusiast, or someone’s partner, check out these rose fun facts that help explain the allure of these much sought-after flowers.
History of Roses
Archeologists have discovered rose fossils dating back 35 million years. The first traces of cultivation, however, date back nearly 5,000 years to ancient China. Scientists have determined that the very first rose color cultivated was pink, as they were the variety most commonly found in the wild. While the first cultivation of roses took place in ancient China, evidence points to more practical uses starting around 4,000 years ago in present-day Iraq.
It’s been discovered that the oldest living rose is 1,000 years old! This rose is aptly known as the “Thousand-Year Rose,” and grows on the side of a German cathedral. Its origins lie in German folklore and it is said to have grown in honor of the Saxon goddess Hulda—for whom the cathedral was constructed. The cathedral was destroyed during World War II, but the bush’s roots survived and blossomed amongst the ruins.
Rose oil has been a key ingredient in the perfume industry for centuries. Incorporating it into these manufactured fragrances is no small feat; it takes 2,000 roses to produce just one gram of rose oil. Due to their pleasing fragrance, roses were used during negotiation talks between countries. Egyptian empress Cleopatra used rose petals to win over Roman general Mark Antony. Rose perfumes were even used throughout medieval times to mask bad odors, driving up their demand.
Are Roses Edible?
Roses don’t just look great in a vase, they look great on a plate, too! They were first used in many Middle Eastern dishes. During times of great hardship in the Roman Empire, peasants were reduced to growing roses to satisfy their need for food. The petals are edible and rose water is often added to jams or jellies, or used as flavoring. Rose hips—a fruit that grows on some species of rose plants—are high in vitamin C and are also made into jams, jellies, marmalades, soups, and even teas!
Shades of Rose Meanings
“Every rose has its thorn,” but each of the rose colors has its own individual meaning. Red symbolizes love; pink embodies elegance; yellow espouses friendship and happiness; white expresses condolences (as well as purity and faith); green conveys growth; blue represents mystery and intrigue; black signifies change (and sometimes death); orange communicates enthusiasm.
Historically, roses were seen as a symbol of war and politics, and became a banner which medieval states rallied behind. An example of this symbolism came in the 15th century “War of the Roses,” in which Britain was entrenched in a civil war between two factions that stood behind banners of red and white roses.
Additionally, roses were first seen as a symbol of the Greek Goddess of love and beauty: Aphrodite. According to Greek mythology, roses were named after Aphrodite’s son Eros—a simple rearrangement of his name. Similarly, it’s said that the Roman goddess of love, Venus, pricked her foot and started to bleed while walking through a bed of roses—giving them the red color they’re known for. These connections of love and sacrifice are why we see extravagant arrangements of roses in grocery stores every February.
Nicknamed “liquid gold,” rose water is one of the most expensive liquids on the market. It’s said to relieve anxiety, stress and pain, while possessing some antibacterial properties—driving its price up even more. In the 17th century, roses were even used as a form of currency. British and French royalty would accept and use roses and rose water to barter for expensive goods.
Rosarian David Austin poured 15 years and a whopping $5 million into breeding his Juliet rose variety. In 2006, it sold for $15.8 million, solidifying its place as the world’s most expensive rose cultivar.
America’s Favored Flower
In 1986, from the White House Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan declared the rose to be America’s national flower emblem. In his speech, he mentioned that ancient rose fossils have been found in Colorado. He also reminded Americans that George Washington himself bred roses. Both of these he said was a testament to the deep connection between America and the rose. He also cited the rose’s symbolization of “life and love and devotion, of beauty and eternity,” all qualities America embodies!
And, there you have it! Next time you plant or prune a rose, take time to remember its rich, long history and these fun facts. Your gardening experiences will be better off because of it.