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The Meaning of Roses

A Rose By Another Name What Does It Mean?

Sqaure vase of orange roses with goldenrod & leather leaf - meaning desire, enthusiasm

There are few flowers that hold the allure and enchantment of a rose. They grow wild in almost all parts of the world and have been hybridized and cultivated to an overwhelming 7,500 varieties. They grow in short or tall bushes, climb walls, fences, and terraces, and appear in long-stemmed bouquets. Old World roses bloom prolifically at the beginning of the summer, while varieties that descend from China frequently bloom well into the autumn. A rose can come in practically any color, from the ever-popular red rose to all shades of white, pink, yellow, peach, orange, green, lavender, and even hues that approach black and blue. They have an equally diverse composition: the blooms can be small or large, tight or open, and consist of five or many petals. Even the fragrance differs widely amongst the species, from heady musk and damask scents to lighter fruit and sweet smells.

The Popularity and Meaning of Roses

With such a wide selection, it is no wonder that roses are the most popular flowers to give as gifts, both in bouquets and as solitary flowers. It is curious, however, that so few people know about the complex history and meaning of roses. The oldest fossilized remains of roses date to 35 million years ago, and they are featured in the early artwork of Greeks, Romans, Persians, Asians, Indians, and Egyptians. It is said that Nebuchadnezzar included roses in his famous Hanging Gardens and Cleopatra strew rose petals at the feet of her love, Marc Antonius.

Single stem of a red rose
People of the Middle East valued roses for their beauty and their scent, which they sought to capture and make into extravagant perfumes. The Romans associated the rose with Venus, their goddess of love. Later Catholics appropriated the rose as the symbol for the Virgin Mary, who became the “rosa mystica”. Governments incorporated roses into their national emblems and even made them symbols of war. The Victorian Era refined the meaning of roses even more, as lovesick suitors used the language of flowers to communicate secret messages to their beloveds.

As in Victorian times, color is the most commonly identified characteristic that distinguishes one rose from another. Most people know that a red rose symbolizes romantic love. Some remember that yellow roses represent friendship and white roses stand for purity, but few recognize the subtle and varied meanings that roses of all shapes, sizes and colors have developed over time. Indeed, roses convey almost as many meanings as they have forms, and seem capable of encompassing every facet of human emotion. Besides love, friendship, and purity, rose colors can convey desire, fascination, thankfulness, innocence, mourning, and just about every nuance in between. Every shade carries its own unique message, and combining colors in a bouquet can send an intimation all its own. In February 2005 Roses and more Roses discussed the meaning of rose color.

Although color is important, there are other factors that contribute to the meaning of roses. Sometimes the presentation can send a stronger message than any other factor. Professional florists are experts in the art of presentation: they know when a single rose can be more dramatic than a rose bouquet and are knowledgeable about color and spread of the bloom. Generally, the more diminutive a rose, the newer or fresher the feeling it represents.

Rose buds convey innocence and youth: a gift of a single rose or rose bud tells of young love or a new friendship that promises a hopeful future. Roses and rose bouquets in full bloom convey a feeling of love that has reached maturity and is at the height of its passion. Larger, more developed blooms show continuing, deepening love or commitment. Mixing buds and full rose flowers into one bouquet can represent the stretch of a relationship, from its infancy and promise to its culmination and fulfillment. Such a bouquet can be given at the beginning of a relationship to indicate the hope of what is to come or in the midst of a long-lasting relationship to show appreciation for the time spent together. Taken together with hand-selected colors and an intoxicating scent, appropriate attention to the blooms in a bouquet can help send just the right message.

Vase of 12 lavender roses with leather leaf

Roses – A Scent Like No Other

It seems impossible to separate the mental image of a rose from the sensory memory of its scent. Though by no means uniform, roses have long been famous for the perfume that attracts even the most harried passerby to “stop and smell the roses.” The scent alone has the power to captivate and entrance and thus sends a message all its own. Too often this power is underestimated; be sure to select rose bouquets according to their fragrance as well as appearance.

Roses with a strong aroma of damask or musk are associated with serious feelings of intimacy, deep love, and dedication. The damask scent is often considered the essence of the rose: the heady aroma of a Kazanlik or Centifolia clings to the rose’s pedals and creates an aura of mystique surrounding the flowers it favors. The musk scent of Pax, Felicia, and Daphne, however, is free on the air and is capable of bathing an entire room in fragrance. For a lighter scent more appropriate for friendship or get-well bouquets, try roses that have a sweet or fruity side, such as the Hybrid Tea or Old English Garden varieties. These roses emit the scents of youth, jollity, and innocence. Whatever the fragrance, know that the scent of a rose lingers in the memory long after the bloom has wilted. Remember that the meaning of roses is not based on appearance alone, but also relies upon their unique and invigorating perfumes.

A professional florist knows how to expertly choose roses of the correct color, shape, and scent to make a bouquet that sends the perfect message. Utilize his/her advice and knowledge of the meaning of roses to create a floral gift that says more than words: call a local florist today and send that special someone a unique message from the heart.

Contributor: Beth Roberts

Do you roses fascinate you? Love to talk about roses? Pop over to Flower shop Netowork’s Bloomin’ Blog and leave your comments about The Meaning of Roses.


  1. I couldn’t agree more with what you said about how people see a red rose ass a sign of romantic love. My brother is looking to court the girl that she has been wanting to be with. He said that he’d like to buy a bouquet of flowers in a flower store, so he’d like to get help in choosing the right flowers to send the right message to the girl that she loves. Thanks for sharing this.

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