A Story of Beauty: The History Behind
the Rose

The sweet, subtle smell of roses and their enduring beauty has made the flower a popular choice for centuries, even gaining fame from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Roses hold cultural importance around the world signs of affection, enduring love, and even war. But, where did they come from? And how did the rose top all others as the quintessential flower in arrangements, aromatherapy, and gardens?

The story of the rose begins millions of years ago. Scientists have dated the fossilized remains of a rose found in North America and other countries in the northern hemisphere. The first representations in human drawings date back to as early as 1700 BC. Preserved remnants have been discovered in the tombs of Egyptians. Many of these early rose species were more akin to what is presently found wild. Much like the Cherokee rose, they feature splayed petals, not the tightly wrapped buds we enjoy today.


Ancient Meets Modern: Age-Old Uses for Roses










There are thousands of rose varieties grown today. The flower is used for far more than its inherent aesthetic appeal. The fragrance has been distilled at least since the beginning of perfuming in ancient Egypt and Greece. The scent is soft and distinctive.

You may have seen rosehips advertised in cosmetics, nutrition supplements, and skincare products. The rosehip is the fruit that the rose flower bears. They appear on the plant after the flowers begin to die. Rosehip has a number of uses, from teas to syrups and wines. Their bright red and orange coloring even gives them a place in arrangements. Their use dates back to ancient times, and among the nutrients found in them is a rich source of vitamin C.

Cultivation and Culture

The history of roses spans the globe. Humans first began cultivating roses roughly 5,000 years ago. Many ancient cultures, including the Phoenicians, Chinese, Greeks, and Egyptians, cultivated varieties of roses both for beauty and practical purposes.

Two varieties of roses, the damask rose and the rosa alba, were celebrated in early Europe in 900 BC. Books by Confucius that date back to 500 BC mention several books on roses in the emperor’s library, as well as rose beds in the Imperial Gardens. In 300 BC, a Greek scientist named Theophrastus wrote detailed descriptions of the roses he came into contact with, making his writings perhaps the earliest recorded descriptions of roses.

The usefulness and appeal of roses made them valuable as trading commodities during ancient times. The numerous varieties of roses we enjoy today may well be attributed to the trading and transference of early roses as kingdoms were conquered and the world’s cultures mingled.

Charlemagne grew roses on the property at Aix-la-Chapelle in the late 700s AD. Monks were responsible for the care and keeping of the plants. During this time, it was difficult to maintain beds of roses as thieves and passing armies would take flowers and destroy the beds. Soldiers fighting in the 1100s and 1200s carried and traded in various species of the flower during their travels in the Crusades, helping to spread varieties of roses.

In the 1400s, the rose was notably used as a symbol of the York and Lancaster dynasties, fighting for control of England. The Yorks were represented by a white rose, while the Lancasters used a red one. The War of the Roses ended in 1487 with the house of Lancaster finally assuming control and establishing the well-known Tudor dynasty.

A few hundred years later, in the 17th century, roses were once again considered a legitimate form of payment. They were used throughout Europe in exchange for goods and services. The sweet and enduring scent of the flowers likely increased their value by fighting off the odors
of that time in history.

RosesDuring the 17th century, writers in America also started to describe indigenous roses. Several varieties are native to North America, but the most prominently described species at the time was the wild, Virginia rose.

The first nursery in America was created in Long Island in 1737. The market included over a thousand rose varieties, and even Thomas Jefferson ordered flowers from the facility.

In France, Napoleon’s wife kept a notable garden of roses, which was ultimately captured in watercolor by painter Pierre Joseph Redoute in the early 1800s. This expansive collection was likely the first rose garden in Europe. The Chinese had been cultivating roses in gardens years before.

In the 20th century, roses were hybridized and plant geneticists started to work on developing different colors of roses. The evolution of roses during this time has made the varieties grown today hardier and easier to maintain.

Roses Today

Roses certainly hold a place in our cultural identity; perhaps they even hold a place in human history. The flowers are inextricably tied with culture worldwide, and are valued because of their medicinal, aesthetic, and fragrant contributions. Whether you prefer to grow certain varieties in your garden, drink rosehip tea, or order a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day each year, you are participating in an age old custom that highlights the extraordinary attributes of the rose.Rose-Bouquet











Photo Credit:

Photographer GLady offered the photograph of Roses under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer Ben_Kerckx offered the photograph of Rose under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer irenne56 offered the photograph of Roses under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer condesign offered the photograph of Bouquet of Roses under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer kismolek offered the photograph of Rosehips under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer byrev offered the photograph of Damascena Rose under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer Hans Braxmeier offered the photograph of Bouquet of Roses under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay