For the Love of Roses

While you are shopping for the perfect rose for your sweetheart, remember that both men and women have a long history of loving and growing this thorny perennial. Its sentimental appeal as a cut flower and in the garden has never wavered.

A Brief History of the Rose

Our love of roses is rooted in several thousand years of admiration, cultivation and hybridization. Fossil records show roses existed 30 million years ago in Europe, Asia, and North America. While these predecessors to today's Valentines roses were less showy and floriferous, they were equally as appreciated in many cultures through its long history.

In 600 B.C. the Greek poet, Sappho, wrote in a poem, "Ode to the Rose", that this flower was considered the "Queen of flowers". This sentiment has been expressed many times over the centuries. However, few cultures reveled in the admiration of roses like the Romans. In Roman homes petals were used to carpet the floors, to fill bathwater, to drop as confetti at parties, and even to eat. A rose hanging from the ceiling of a civic meeting symbolized secrecy and the content of the meeting was to be kept confidential outside the walls.

Roses are thought to have first been cultivated in China, where they were grown in the imperial gardens of the Chou dynasty as described by Confucius (551-479 BC). One of the greatest rose gardens of all time was maintained by the Empress Josephine of France at her residence in Malmaison. At the time of her death in 1814, Empress Josephine's rose garden contained approximately 250 species and varieties of roses, representing every variety known at the time. Pierre-Joseph Redoute and Claude Antoine Thory have preserved the beauty of this famous rose garden in their paintings, Les Roses.

During Josephine's time, rose breeding was revolutionized with the introduction of Rosa chinensis. This and other Chinese roses were capable of blooming repeatedly. European roses bloomed for short periods only once a year. The introductions from Asia also brought new flower colors, such as yellow, to adoring Europeans. These Asian roses were breed with European roses to develop a new class of roses, the hybrid teas and by the late 19th century a rainbow of repeat blooming roses were created. Shortly thereafter, the hybrid-tea rose became the widely grown type of rose.

Today, hybrid-tea roses still hold the distinction as being the most popular rose in the world. They have also been the most widely sold Valentine Day flower for decades.

The Language of Roses

Flowers and flower color have long been used to express one's feelings or sentiments. Red roses for example express love and respect. Other sentiments can be conveyed by other flower colors. The following chart from the All-American Rose Selection website provides a list of sentiments associated with various rose colors.

Rose color Sentiment or Meaning
Red Love and respect
Deep pink Gratitude and appreciation
Light pink Admiration and sympathy
White Reverence and humility
Yellow Joy and gladness
Orange Enthusiasm and desire
Red and Yellow blend Gaiety and joviality
Pale Blended Tones Sociability and friendship

2002 All-American Rose Selection Winners

Since 1938, the All-American Rose Selections (AARS) organization has grown and evaluated new rose varieties at test gardens throughout the U.S. This non-profit association of rose breeders and growers is dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses to home gardeners. Roses are evaluated for 2 years at 27 test gardens for vigor, habit, flower form and color, fragrance, disease resistance, and other characteristics. Only the best performers around the US are named AARS winners. This years winners are 'Love and Peace' and 'Starry Night'.

'Love and Peace', a descendant of the legendary Peace rose, will live up to the family name with its five-inch flowers of golden yellow edged in pink. This classic hybrid-tea grows 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Gardeners will fall in love with its fruity fragrance and disease resistance.

'Starry Night' is a shrub rose with clusters of single, pure white flowers. This landscape rose reaches 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. Its 5-petaled white flowers sparkle against the dark green, disease resistant leaves.

All-American Rose Selection winners make great additions to home gardens. AARS winners can also be viewed at the following public gardens in Iowa.

Garden Town
Reiman Gardens Ames
Vander Veer Park Davenport
Greenwood Park Des Moines
Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens Dubuque
Weed Park Muscatine
Public Rose Garden State Center

This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2002 issue, pp. 10-11.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on February 8, 2002. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.