Roses: Plant and Flower Facts, Photos, and Symbolic Meanings
Roses are beautiful flowers that have long been a symbol of love. They belong to the genus Rosa, which exists in both wild and cultivated forms. A wonderful variety of cultivated roses exist today. Flowers of many different colors are available. Some produce an enchanting fragrance to add to their attraction.
Roses have been admired by humans since ancient times. They are useful plants as well as being ornamental. An aromatic and flavorful oil can be extracted from their petals. This oil has culinary and cosmetic uses. Rose water captures the essence of the flowers in a more dilute form but is still valuable. The fruits of the plants, or rose hips, can be a useful food and also provide an oil.
Over the years, roses have come to symbolize more than love. Each of the main flower colors is associated with a particular symbolic meaning. For people interested in giving a gift of flowers, these meanings may be significant.
Fossil evidence suggests that the first wild roses appeared at least 35 million years ago. Cultivation of the flowers is thought to have begun about 5,000 years ago and most likely started in China.
Roses are lovely flowers that are appreciated by many people. The huge variety of flowers that are available can be confusing, however. The flowers and plants vary in color, appearance, fragrance, blooming frequency, and growth habit.
The plant that bears the blossoms is generally referred to as a rose bush (a term that is also written as rosebush). Rose bushes are deciduous and lose their leaves in the fall. Some keep their leaves for longer than others, however. The plants are perennials and produce new leaves in the next growing season.
The bushes have pinnately compound leaves. Each leaf has one leaflet at the tip and paired leaflets pointed to the sides. The number of leaflets in a leaf varies. Rose bushes often have prickles or thorns, which is something to watch out for if a plant is touched.
Types of Roses
Different classification systems for roses exist. A common one divides the plants into three main categories. Each category is subdivided into smaller groups. The main categories are:
- Wild or species roses (roses with a single layer of petals; includes wild roses and their close but cultivated relatives)
- Old garden roses (cultivated roses that existed before the creation of the hybrid tea rose in 1867, with the exception of the species roses)
- Modern garden roses (the hybrid tea rose and later creations)
Cultivated roses may have single or double petals. The single roses have one row of four to eight petals that spread outwards, revealing the stamens and pistil in the middle of the flower. These flowers resemble the wild roses with their five petals. Double roses have more than one row of petals that often hide the reproductive structures.
Old Garden Roses
Old garden roses are known for their delightful scent. In general, they are sturdy plants that are easier to care for than modern types. They tend to have less vibrant colours than modern roses. Nevertheless, there seems to be renewed interest in the plants due to their valued features.
Despite the term "old" in their name, the roses may have complex flowers with multiple layers of petals. Rosa mundi (shown above) and the damask rose (shown below) belong to the old roses group. The colour of the damask rose ranges from white to deep pink. The petals are edible and are added to food. The flower is strongly associated with love.
The damask rose is appreciated for more than its beauty. It has a wonderful fragrance and is used to make rose oil, concrete, and water. Rose oil is extracted from the petals with the aid of steam or chemicals. Rose concrete is a solid piece of scented wax. Rose water is made by soaking petals in water.
The oil of the damask rose is used to make perfume. In Middle Eastern cuisine, rose water made from the flower is added to meat and desserts, including ice cream, rice pudding, and jam. I know rose water best for its use in Turkish delight.
Modern Garden Roses
The modern roses group is very large. Some examples of categories in the group are described below.
- Hybrid Tea: has the typical flower that most people think of when they hear the word "rose" or when they go to a florist to buy roses as a gift; in general, the flower is a single bloom borne on a long stem
- Polyantha: has small flowers borne in thick clusters
- Floribunda: created by a cross between hybrid tea roses and polyantha roses; generally has small flowers borne in clusters; the bush and flowers tend to be larger than those of polyantha roses
- Grandiflora: created by a cross between hybrid tea roses and floribunda roses; the flowers are generally large and may be borne in clusters or singly on a long stem
- Climbing: have long, flexible stems that can be "trained" to climb and drape attractively over trellises, fences, and walls
- Miniature: has very small blossoms and can be grown in tight places such as containers, rock gardens, and borders
I took all of the photos in the collection below in different rose gardens near my home. The gardens are a special treat when the flowers are in bloom.
Oil and Fragrance
Rose petals from many species are used to make an oil or scented water. The oil is sometimes known as attar of roses. The oil and the water are used to flavor foods and provide a delightful aroma to perfumes and cosmetics.
In some countries, extracting the oil from rose petals is a major industry. Flowers that are especially aromatic are chosen for this extraction. Steam distillation is commonly used to extract the oil, but solvent extraction is used by some oil producers.
When considering whether to buy a product, it's important to distinguish between rose oil and rose hip (or rosehip) oil. The pleasant scent is provided by the first product, not the second. Both oils are added to cosmetics. Scientists are still investigating the products to determine whether they offer benefits for our body.
Roses were very popular in Ancient Rome. Their petals were strewn on the floor as a carpet during celebrations. They were also used as confetti, in perfume and cosmetics, and for medicinal purposes.
Rose hips are orange or red when ripe. They are edible, though some are more palatable than others. They frequently taste like apples. Roses and apples belong to the same botanical family (the Rosaceae family). Some people use rose hips to make jelly, jam, or tea.
Some kinds of roses have so many petals that it's hard for insects to reach the stigma of the female part of a flower in order to pollinate it. Rose flowers contain both male and female reproductive structures but must receive pollen from another rose flower. Roses are pollinated by insects, hummingbirds, and wind as well as artificially by humans. If pollination doesn't happen, hips won't form.
If you decide to forage for wild rose hips, make sure that you are positive about a plant's identification, that it's growing in an area free of pollutants and pesticides, and that some hips are left for birds to eat and for the plant's reproduction.
Black, Blue, and Green Roses
Cultivated roses have a gorgeous array of colors. No black or blue roses exist, however. Breeders are trying hard to create them, but the colors are proving to be elusive.
Although no truly black rose exists, some dark red or deep purple ones may come close to being black in appearance. (The photos of pure black roses seen on some websites are photoshopped.) Similarly, no truly blue rose exists, although some mauve or lavender ones may look almost blue.
A green rose does exist (Rosa chinensis viridiflora). The rows of green "petals" of the flower are actually sepals, however. In most flowers, the sepals are green, leaf-like structures found directly underneath the flower. They protect the flower bud before it opens. The green rose has no stamens or stigma, doesn't produce seeds, and is propagated by cuttings.
The Color of Roses - A Poll
What is your favorite rose color?
Rose Colors and Their Symbolic Meanings
A rose color can have a different meaning for different people. Often people like a color simply because it's beautiful. It's fun to look at the traditional meanings of the colors, though.
- Red: romantic love
- Pink: gratitude and appreciation
- Orange: desire and passion
- Yellow: friendship
- Lavender: enchantment or love at first sight
- White: innocence or purity of love
Today, red roses are a frequent symbol of true love and are a traditional Valentine's Day gift. In the past, white roses were used to symbolize love. Even today, the white flowers are often referred to as "bridal roses" and are used at weddings. They're also used to express love for a deceased person at a funeral.
Symbolic Meanings in the Past
Roses have had many symbolic meanings in history. In the “Wars of the Roses”, the symbol of the House of Lancaster was a red rose and that of the House of York a white one. Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two factions. The roses were combined to create the Tudor Rose, which is the emblem of England.
The modern term "sub rosa", which means "under the rose", is used to describe a secret or confidential meeting. It's believed to have originated from the Ancient Roman habit of hanging a rose over a table where people were having a private discussion.
All roses are beautiful, but not all of them have strong fragrances. Many different types are available in flower stores and nurseries. Breeding and growing roses is enjoyed by both professionals and by hobbyists. The flowers are loved by many people.
Blooming roses are a joy to see in a home garden, a botanical or rose garden, or a landscaped area. Though I would rather see them in planted form, the cut flowers sold in stores make lovely and often much-appreciated gifts. The large variety of roses available today is a testament to the popularity of the plants. I think their fame is well deserved.
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© 2013 Linda Crampton