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Roses throughout history:  A Timeless Expression of Beauty and Love

Romantic stories always begin with roses. Throughout the ages, few flower fragrances and forms can compare to that of the rose, making it a timeless expression of beauty and love. Artists and poets have found inspiration in roses, leading to their appearances in art, music, and literature for centuries. Legend has it that Cleopatra filled a room with a foot-deep bed of rose petals to weaken Mark Anthony’s resistance to her ardor.
Cultural Significance and Colorful History
From early Greek and Roman cultures to the present day, roses hold widespread cultural significance and boast a colorful history. Oriental-Muslim poets used the rose as an important symbol within their mystical tradition, while pre-Christian religions regarded roses as symbols of secrecy. In the 13th century, Crusaders brought back Damask roses from the Middle East, leading to their use in medicine and opulent fragrances during Medieval times. The War of the Roses in the 15th century featured Gallica roses as symbols, with the white rose representing the House of York and the red rose representing its rival, Lancaster. Christianity also features the white rose as a metaphor for the purity of the Virgin Mary.
Ancient Origins and Global Popularity
Roses predate human existence, with fossil evidence in Colorado suggesting that roses are 40 million years old. Asia Minor’s fossil record tells an even older tale, dating back 70 million years. Wild roses in Asia Minor eventually spread across the entire northern hemisphere. Pre-Babylonian cultivation of modern garden roses began around 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia and later spread throughout the civilized world. The popularity of rose cultivation and hybridizing reached its peak in Europe during the Victorian era, and hybrid roses were eventually exported to America. Today, the American Rose Society lists over 40 different types of roses in its classification system, though some believe there are 200 true species. With over 30,000 registered varieties, roses continue to be one of the world’s most beloved flowers.
Roses in New England
In our area, New England settlers brought cuttings and seeds from their favorite roses when they settled the New World. Cultivars such as Damask, Alba, Gallica, Centifolia, and Sweetbriar were included. Native American rose, Rosa virginiana, caught the attention of the settlers, who sent plants back to England. Over time, rose breeders carefully selected and crossed different types of roses, resulting in the flowers we know today. Modern roses offer a wide range of colors, forms, and fragrances that are unparalleled in the floral world. Americans show their deep appreciation for roses by purchasing over a billion cut roses annually.
The Love Language of Roses – The Secret Meaning Behind Rose Colors
Roses are a versatile cut flower and find their way into various arrangement styles. Since the European Victorian era, roses have been the most popular flowers for gift-giving and gardens, and a symbolic language using roses as metaphors has developed. Different rose colors have specific meanings related to the intensity and importance of feelings. Understanding these historical colors and their meanings can help you choose the right roses for your intended recipient.
Symbolic rose colors:
Red roses symbolize passion, love, romance, and courage. Nothing boldly declares “I love you” better than a gift of this most recognizable color. Red roses make a lovely gift to celebrate a wedding anniversary and are the most popular gift for Valentine’s Day. A dozen red roses clearly communicate “Be My Love,” while twenty-four red roses signify thinking of someone 24 hours a day. Pairing red roses with baby’s breath creates a sweet, old-fashioned look.
Burgundy or deep red roses have a special connection to the wilder, more sultry side of love. The dark red color represents deeper passion and devotion. These roses combine well with white roses, white carnations, and dusty pink seasonal flowers.
Lavender roses are all about secrecy and enchantment and are often sent to express love at first sight. A darker lavender color represents mystical discovery and inner journeys. These roses complement well with pinks, cool blues, and whites.
Pale pink roses express affectionate admiration and gratitude. They serve as an acknowledgment of femininity and are perfect for celebrating the birth of a child or acknowledging the sweetness of a new relationship. One thornless pink rose may signify love at first sight. They are a good choice for a baby’s first birthday. Pink is also the oldest rose color in cultivation.
Deep pink and hot pink roses express joy, gratitude, and grace. Deeper shades of pink make a universal rose gift suitable for any occasion. These roses combine well with whites, ivory, yellow, and lilac flowers. Darker pinks look stunning when set off by dark green foliage.
Yellow roses represent friendship and joy, making them the perfect gift to remember friendships with deep affection. However, it’s essential to ensure that the message you wish to convey is friendship, as yellow roses indicate platonic love rather than passionate love. They also hold significance in funeral arrangements, symbolizing deep ties. Yellow roses complement perfect get-well or congratulatory arrangements.
White roses symbolize pure love, innocence, and eternal love. They are frequently used in wedding bouquets to represent the start of a new life. White roses also make a lovely acknowledgment of a new baby, representing the continuation of life. They are ideal for baby showers, baptisms, and confirmations when combined with pale pink. White roses also signify solemn remembrance and are often included in sympathy arrangements. They arrange beautifully with any color flower but exude simplicity and elegance when combined with other white flowers and soft greens.
Ivory and champagne roses represent grace, charm, and tenderness. This universal color is suitable for most occasions and is often chosen for its understated elegance. For sophisticated arrangements, select subtle companion flowers in the palest pink, chartreuse green, and white. For a cheerful bouquet, combine ivory roses with bright and soft yellow flowers.
Oranges and corals are the colors of enthusiastic energy and desire. These roses make great gifts for accomplishments, graduations, promotions, and congratulations. Deeper orange hues are ideal as hostess gifts for Thanksgiving dinners. They combine well with yellows, whites, and blues, creating a bright and vibrant arrangement.
How to Help Cut Roses Last Longer
To extend the life of your cut roses, follow these steps:
1. Unwrap and recut the stems as soon as possible, cutting them at an angle.
2. Remove any foliage below the waterline.
3. Use a clean vase and fill it one-third of the way with room temperature water.
4. Dissolve the packet of flower food that was included with your flowers according to the package directions.
5. Place the newly cut stems in water containing the flower food, adding more water if necessary.
6. Display the roses in a cool spot away from direct sunlight and heat.
7. Change the water every few days and recut the stems to allow them to continue taking up water.
8. Gently remove any dead foliage or spent petals over time to keep the arrangement looking fresh.
Rose fragrances are complex and vary widely in scent and intensity. The two essential oil distillations most commonly used in perfumery come from the Damask rose and the Centifolia rose, also known as the cabbage rose. Roses with intense fragrance often trace their heritage back to the Alba from China and the Gallica roses from Central Europe. Albas have a clean, feminine scent, while Gallicas, known as the Apothecary rose, emit a warm, heirloom fragrance. Bourbon roses, originally from an Indian Ocean island, possess a heady, intense fragrance with citrusy and fruity notes. Generally, roses with more petals and darker colors tend to have a more intense fragrance, while pale roses may have subtle citrus scents.
For centuries, roses have been used to create fragrant potpourris and incenses. You can repurpose spent flowers by drying their petals. Tie the spent roses in small bunches and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place until the petals feel slightly brittle. Dried rose heads can be used in homemade wreaths, while the petals can be used in potpourri, powdered for cooking, or sprinkled in the bath. Tea roses, a result of hybridizing China roses with Rosa gigantea, often have a sharp scent of new tea. Rosa rugosa flowers and buds have the traditional rose scent, emitting a heady, old-fashioned fragrance. Passing by a hedge of rugosa on a sunny day when the flowers are in full bloom is a memorable experience.
Rose scent in the garden arises from volatile chemicals produced in the petals, which evaporate under certain conditions, creating the well-known fragrance. The fragrance of garden roses is not constant and may be muted in the cool of the morning but reaches its peak later in the day after exposure to warmth and light. While most roses have some fragrance, hybrid tea roses and floribundas usually have a stronger scent. Garden rose fragrance intensifies after the roses are cut and brought indoors.
Roses in the Household
Since the 18th century, Middle Eastern cultures have distilled rose petals into rose water, which continues to be used as an ingredient in confections like Turkish Delight and for flavoring baked goods such as cupcakes and sponge cakes. A discrete splash of rose water can be used to flavor summer stone fruits and strawberries, adding a subtle note to custards and ice creams. In the United Kingdom, households sometimes add rose water to beverages and cocktails. Rose simple syrup is popular in Indian cuisine, particularly in cheese dishes and biryani. Candied rose petals are often used to decorate fancy cakes, while dried rose petals, chopped fine, can be sprinkled onto sweet cake frostings. A light touch of rose fragrance adds elegance and a unique twist to various culinary creations.
In addition to their culinary uses, roses have long been associated with beauty and are used in beauty and skincare products. Rose-infused oils, lotions, and creams offer the benefits of their soothing and moisturizing properties. With their captivating scents and delicate petals, roses have found their place beyond bouquets, enriching our lives in diverse ways.

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