The Meaning of Roses

Updated on November 11, 2017
Deborah Minter profile image

Deborah is a research enthusiast! She takes special interest in this world's ancient mysteries.

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The rose has always held an enchanting quality in art, religion, mythology, and literature. It is known as the "queen of flowers." Its beauty, elegance, and fragrance no doubt make it the most romantic flower of them all.

To hand someone a single red rose is to say, “I love you.” There was a time that a particular rose held special meaning and its stage of bloom and shade also conveyed something significant. The rose was a gift to send to your betrothed or true love. Each delivery of roses literally was a message. To express thoughts or messages with roses is something known as Floriography, the language of flowers.

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet claims, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Therefore making Romeo worthy of love in spite of bearing the name "Montague."
In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet claims, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Therefore making Romeo worthy of love in spite of bearing the name "Montague."

History

It all began in pious times when speaking words of love or meetings of romance were forbidden. Roses were a chaste, secret way of communicating one’s emotions or words of passion.

The language of flowers originated in Persia in the fifteenth century, it eventually was brought to Europe in the eighteenth century. A message was sent by a single rose or bouquet of roses, each color and number had a specific meaning.

The custom was used in Turkey, in the seventeenth century. In 1718 Lady Mary Wortley wrote a letter, describing what she discovered as, “the secret language of flowers,” during her visits in Turkey. There was meaning attached to flowers for the concubine women, who could not read or write, roses were a way to communicate with one another. The practice extended to sending messages to lovers they wished to convey secrets to.

In 1819 Louise Cortumbert, under the pen name Madame Charlotte de la Tour, published the first dictionary of the flower language. The idea of roses possessing a language was a romantic notion and well liked. In the Victorian era it became one of the most favorable adopted traditions. Women and suitors could communicate and send letters via roses. In 1884 a book was published in London, “The language of flowers” by Jean Marsh. It has become the standard source of Victorian flower meanings.

This “Floral Code,” is now known as floriography. The color of a rose was the most meaningful sentiment one wished to deliver, and set the tone of the message.

The tale of the "Rose and the Nightingale," in Persian art.
The tale of the "Rose and the Nightingale," in Persian art.

Red Rose

Red roses mean passionate love. An entire letter could be composed by a bouquet of roses. The color red was the preferred color of roses for your sweetheart to receive. It is still a custom to give your beloved red roses. To give one red rose, simply means “I love you.”

The shade of red was significant as well. Mostly meant to express desire of some kind. Amaranth Red is long standing desire; in contrast Cardinal red is Sublime desire. Carmine red is Deceitful Desire. Fiery red is meant to express flames of passion. A burgundy rose means unconscious beauty. The red rose given in conjunction with other colors also expresses feelings. Red with white roses, or white roses with red edges means unity. Red and yellow together conveys joy and happy feelings.

Pink Rose

Pink roses are associated with sweet love, or kindness. Dark pink means gratitude.

Pink roses are commonly given as a best wishes or "Get well," gift.
Pink roses are commonly given as a best wishes or "Get well," gift.

White Rose

They are known as the “Flower of Light.” White roses represent Innocence or purity. They also express reverence and humility. The white rose carries many other signs than just romance.

Twelve white roses mean secrecy. White and Coral together is, “You’re heavenly and I desire you.” Dried white roses are, “Death is preferable to loss of virtue.”

In America they represent security and happiness. They are commonly used for weddings. In Scotland if a white rose blooms in autumn it is a sign of early marriage. In Asian tradition white is the ultimate absence, they mean death. In Vietnam, the white rose is worn on Mother’s Day for those whose mothers have passed away. In contrast red roses are worn for those whose mothers are still alive.

Orange Rose

The orange rose implies desire. They are commonly used for celebration, giving them a festive quality.

To give two roses (or a bouquet), of Orange and Yellow together means passionate thoughts.

Orange roses are commonly used in celebrations.
Orange roses are commonly used in celebrations.

Yellow Rose

Yellow roses mean Joy or friendship. The yellow rose has gone through a transformation of meanings.

In Victorian times it meant jealousy. Today it is generally associated with friendship, joy, gladness, and freedom. In Islamic folklore it symbolized deceit, treachery and adultery. In Mexico yellow roses or flowers are a sign of death. In France yellow roses or flowers represent infidelity.

Black Rose

Black roses signify death. They also mean hatred or farewell. A single black rose was used by a loved one leaving for a war, or on a journey he did not expect to return from.

Purple Rose

Purple or lavender roses have always had the most magical implication. Purple roses mean enchantment. A lavender rose means love at first sight. Purple roses also can mean uniqueness.

Purple and lavender roses customarily express "Love at for sight."
Purple and lavender roses customarily express "Love at for sight."


The placement and manner a rose was given held significant meaning for the rose as well. The rose position was important. Bent to the right meant “I”, bent to the left meant “You.” Ribbon knotted on the left was a message from the giver and knotted on the right was a message about the recipient. If accepted with the right hand, it was an affirmation or agreement. If accepted with the left hand it was negative, a disagreement. Roses also were to be worn in special places to express a phrase or emotion. A rose worn over the heart means love. If worn in the hair that would mean Caution. Worn in the cleavage is friendship or remembrance. A rose found in a tuft of grass is “Everything to be gained by good company.”

Exotic colored roses are intriguing. A white and red colored rose represents unity.
Exotic colored roses are intriguing. A white and red colored rose represents unity.

Numbers and Roses

The number of roses given and stage of bloom held and still indicates a special message.

  • One single rose in full bloom- I love you

  • One rose- Simplicity

  • Two roses- gratitude

  • Two roses joined together- engagement, coming marriage

  • Twelve roses- Ultimate Declaration of Love

  • Twenty Five roses- Congratulations

  • Fifty roses- Unconditional love


There are other meanings associated with roses or flowers that were used for ceremonies or gifts.

  • The peach colored rose means friendship.

  • Bouquet of mature blooms- Gratitude

  • Tea Roses- “I’ll always remember you”

  • Rose Bud with leaves, no thorns- “I fear no longer, I hope.”

  • Jacqueminot Rose- “I Am True.”

  • Thorn less Rose- Love at for sight. (Also can mean ingratitude or early attachment.)

  • Full Bloom Rose placed over two buds- Secrecy

  • Half bloom Rose- timid Love

  • Rose Leaf-Symbol of Hope

  • Rose Thorn- Danger

  • Rosemary- “Your presence revives me.”

  • Rosebud Moss- Confessions of Love

  • Carolina Rose- Love is Dangerous

  • Coral Rose- Speak your desire

  • Crimson Rose- Mourning

Sacred places preserve some of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world.
Sacred places preserve some of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world.

The tradition of roses having a language of their own has not vanished altogether. It has become a nostalgic custom to encrypt roses to a beloved. Roses have mystery and language, words can be given and not spoken, with a single rose. The next time you receive a bouquet of roses, count them and take note of their color, there may be a hidden message among them.

Questions & Answers

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      • Maricruz Minter profile image

        Maricruz Minter 9 months ago from Los Angeles

        What a beautiful facet of culture!

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