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Horticultural Heroes: Exploring the History & Symbolism of Roses

Cultivating roses is as rewarding as it is fun. There are few flowers that have as interesting a history or as much rich symbolism. A token of love, friendship and even new beginnings. No matter which variety or colour you introduce into your garden, they’re sure to add a touch of elegance and drama to every space. This article will explore everything you need to know about these incredible blooms. You’ll be an expert in no time!

The origin of the rose

Roses have an incredibly rich history. It may surprise you to learn that archaeologists have found rose fossils that date back 35 million years. Throughout this time, they have been used to represent feelings of love and admiration. It is believed that they were first deliberately cultivated around 500 BC in Asia. However, even before this time, there is evidence to suggest that wild roses were used to produce rosewater and other fragrances in 2000 BC in Iraq.

In ancient Greece and Rome, the flower served a very important purpose. Ancient greeks used them for medicinal purposes, as well as in celebration and burial rites. The romans associated the rose with rejuvenation and rebirth and therefore used them in their swimming baths when cleaning. They also became a symbol of excess when the roman people were forced to grow the flower instead of food to satisfy their rulers during the Roman Empire. 

Early roses grown in Europe were likely forms of the gallica variety. The ‘officinalis’ rose became popular due to its pure scent and large fuscia blooms. The rose took on further historical significance during the 15th century with the War of the Roses. Used as a symbol on the battlefield, the House of Lancaster championed the red rose, while the House of York opted to display a white rose.

Even from this short history, it’s clear that this flower has been hugely important. Today, we are lucky to have over 30,000 varieties of roses and they continue to serve as a symbol of love and beauty.

They held importance in ancient roman times

The importance of roses 

Considered to be one of the oldest flowers, it should come as no surprise that roses are frequently mentioned in both religious texts and mythology. A powerful symbol in Greek mythology, roses are closely linked with Adonis, lover of Aphrodite. Used to symbolise love, it is said that after being attacked by a wild boar, as Adonis died in Aphrodite’s arms, the first red roses sprouted after his blood was soaked into the earth, staining the white roses nearby.

In Roman mythology, roses are associated with Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. According to legend, red roses were created when Cupid (the son of Venus) was stung by a bee, causing him to shoot his arrows into a rose garden. The arrows caused the roses to grow thorns, causing Venus to cut her foot when she walked through, bleeding over the roses and staining them red.

Rose symbolism is also present throughout Christianity, appearing in many important texts and paintings. The Virgin Mary is often referred to as a ‘rose without thorns’, white varities of the flower serving as a symbol of purity and faith. Red roses represent the shedding of Christ’s blood. Furthermore, the word rosary is actually derived from roses. It is said that the rosary, introduced by St. Dominicus, was originally made from the flowers themselves. The flower is also noted as having an important role in many other religions.

The blooms are a popular symbol in Christianity

Symbolism in different cultures and countries

Although commonly seen as a symbol of romance, the cultural significance of these blooms can differ. In China, red roses are representative of strength and independence. However, in India, they are said to symbolise joy. If you ever venture to the middle east, you’ll find that they are seen as a symbol of sensual pleasure. While in Iran, they promise long life. Crossing the globe once again, you will find that in Germany and Wales, white roses are often given at funerals as a token of condolence. Due to these different meanings, if you ever find yourself abroad and about to gift a local with a bouquet, you may want to do a little research to make sure that you are sending just the right message.

Colour theory: which should you pick? 

Different shades of roses have vastly different meanings. So, it’s helpful to understand the symbolism of each colour.

Red roses: Passion & romantic love

A bouquet of roses in a beautiful deep red hue can only mean one thing…someone is head over heels in love with you. Packed with meaning and symbolism, there’s a reason this particular shade is often used at weddings or given on Valentine’s Day. Red roses petals represent passion, perfection, love and romance.

Pink roses: Elegance & femininity 

While the shades of pink roses each have their own particular meanings (dark pink roses represent appreciation while lighter hues often indicate gentleness and joy), they generally symbolise elegance and femininity. Give these rose arrangements to anyone you admire as a symbol of your gratitude. This may be a friend, sibling or even a teacher.

Yellow roses: Joy & friendship

A beautiful burst of colour, it’s no surprise to learn that yellow roses are symbolic of joy, sure to brighten the home of every recipient. They are also representative of friendship and so are a great way to show your appreciation to a beloved friend.

White roses: Innocence & purity

These blooms traditionally symbolise purity, innocence and youthfulness. However, they can also represent young love and eternal loyalty, which also explains why they are also often used in weddings. 

Orange roses: Energy & desire

Fiery and eye-catching, orange roses represent energy, desire and excitement. A great choice to gift to someone who you consider to exude positive energy. They are also ideal to present after someone has just accomplished a big life goal (like a graduation or job promotion), the orange hue helping to capture and reflect their excitement.

Green roses: New beginnings

Green coloured roses are symbolic of new beginnings. This special hue may be artificial, but its meaning is very real. A great choice to celebrate a new birth, the delicate green blooms will work well to celebrate any birthday of a loved one, regardless of gender.

Blue roses: Mystery & secrecy

Much like their unnatural hue suggests, these flowers are a symbol of mystery and secrecy. A truly stunning, unique flower, they are sure to catch the eye and draw attention. They can also be used to represent dreams and so are often given to those in pursuit of a goal to show the givers support.

Artificial colours of these florals also hold a special meaning

What next?

We hope this article has helped you understand these beautiful flowers better. If you’re ready to plant, check out our online shop to discover our range of affordable rose seedlings. Plus, you can check out our post on how to plant them by popping over to our knowledge hub. Please don’t hesitate to share your own pictures of your rose garden with us on social media (@gardeningexpress). We would love to see them!

Updated on March 15, 2024

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