In one of his numerous sonnets, Shakespeare wrote “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,” and this is never truer when it comes to the rose. We appreciate roses more than any other flower. We try and prolong their beauty for as long as possible, deadheading dying flowers and feeding them during their growing season, and take cuttings to make copies of the plant. It’s the flower of choice for confessing your deepest feelings for someone in a bouquet of roses.
Many people all over the world prize roses for their longevity and beauty, using the plant for a variety of uses, from perfumes, medicines, cosmetics, to edible delights.
Read on to learn more about roses.
The History Behind Roses
Fossil evidence suggests roses have been around for some 35 million years. Roses were first cultivated by humans around 5,000 years ago, most likely in China, and we’ve been admiring them ever since. The Romans took advantage of the growing conditions in the Middle East to fulfill the huge demand of rose petals, used in medicine, perfume, cosmetics, and confetti.
In the seventeenth century, roses were so highly regarded and so rare that they became legal tender, used for trade and payments. In the late eighteenth century, roses were introduced into Europe from China, and most modern roses stem from this ancestry. These roses bloomed repeatedly, and people set out to breed them to create hardy roses that bloomed for longer.
If you ever find yourself in Hildesheim in Germany, stop by the Cathedral. The oldest living rose to date grows up the side of the Cathedral, known as the Thousand-Year Rose, or the Rose of Hildesheim. It was planted roughly in the 800s, when the original cathedral was built, and still boasts blooms of pale pink roses in May. It survived a WWII bombing, where new shoots emerged from the destroyed cathedral.
How to Identify A Rose
In nature, the genus Rosa has over 150 species spread across the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to northern Africa. They’re perennial, where the plant survives year after year, recognizable for the woody, thorny stems, oval-shaped, serrated leaves and gorgeous round flower heads. The flowers are usually perfumed, and can boast rows upon rows of architectural petals, or simpler, older flower types of single petals, no less beautiful. There are many types. Climbers and ramblers both grow upwards against structures and require some sort of support, shrub roses grow as bushes, and standard tree roses which require less support than climbers, and which grow outward at the top.
How to Care For and Maintain A Rose
How easy a rose is to care for completely depends on the type of rose. Some are hardier than others, and there are many types which require different conditions in order to grow them at their best. There are a few tips that apply to most roses, which I’ve outlined below.
If you’re planting a new rose, before you put the rose in the ground, it’s helpful to mulch the hole with well-rotted manure to give it a head start.
Roses prefer shelter which limits wind damage, but the majority of roses like full sun if you can give it to them.
Roses grow best in loam soil – which is a mixture of clay, sand and silt. The thicker the soil, generally the better the quality, with lots of nutrients the plant can draw from. It’s worth mentioning that this soil has to be well-composted – no half-rotten material or rotting straw, only completely rotted brown stuff here, please! Some plants like that, but the general rule is that it’s best to wait until everything is broken down properly, to prevent any disease or pests.
Roses require regular feeds in the growing season to maintain vigorous growth. Once a flower has faded, snip it off the plant to divert its energy into opening new buds. A specialist rose feed is readily available from a wide range of shops, but any kind of blood and bone mixed feed they’ll like, too.
Roses can suffer from pests and disease just like any other plant. Black spot is a notoriously ugly disease that affects the leaves, which is best cut off as soon as you see it. You can buy sprays that tackle black spot, but these can weaken or kill beneficial insects. Aphids are also a big problem for roses, and while unscented roses are cultivated to stop some pests, it’s a crying shame not to be able to smell a rose. Planting marigolds next to plants that aphids love can disguise what the aphids smell of these lovely blooms and stop them from being eaten. Concentrated garlic essence or water also deters most pests and diseases, which you can make yourself from boiling garlic in water.
Roses must be pruned. You need to deadhead dead flowers to promote new growth, and when you should prune the plant itself depends on the type of rose you have. Shrub and bush roses need to be pruned in mid-spring, where you should remove dead, diseased, or dying branches. You should get rid of a branch that crosses another – if they rub together they can become injured and this invites disease. Climbers require pruning in the autumn, when the flowers have started to fade. Ramblers need pruning back in late summer. Ground cover roses need pruning in spring.
Read on to learn about which type you have already, or which you might want!
Rose Types and Varieties
Roses come in three main groups: species roses, heirloom, and modern roses. Simply put, species roses are as nature intended. Heirlooms are the oldest hybrids humans have created, and modern are the new.
Species roses grow as bushes, some of which climb. They can grow up to 6 meters in height! Species roses are not cross-breed roses – they’re the only type grown from seed. Simply put, these roses are as nature designed. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many types – there’s over 200! These flowers are beautiful for their simplicity, featuring five petals in pink, red or white. While they’re not as elaborate or as grand-looking, or what you wouldn’t recognize as being a rose as they don’t have many petals, they’re still beautiful. They’re also used in medicine and for culinary purposes. They only bloom once a year. Some types you’ll find are:
Known as Rosa acicularis, which translates as “hairpin rose” has small dark red or pink blossoms on a climbing stem, covered in straight thorns and oval toothed leaves. They’re often used to stop erosion.
Rosa arkansana, known for its pink flowers which cluster together on a straight stem. It’s native to central North America. You’ll find lots of thorns on lower stems, and this plant has oblong leaves which are toothed, so be careful!
Rosa blanda, meaning ‘flattering, caressing rose’ , has light pink to white flowers on stems that are straight and like to branch out. Thorns are only present on the base of old stems, and the leaves of this rose are oblong.
Rosa canina, has a more unusual name than most! The term ‘dog rose’ comes from an age-old belief that the rose hip oil this plant produces could protect from rabies from dog bites. This flower has some pretty early recorded significance. The Academy of Floral Games, (Acadèmia dels Jòcs Florals), one of the oldest running poetic academies (founded in 1323) gifted the best poets flowers, and sprigs of dog roses. As the plant is fairly hardy, it’s often used as the rootstock for grafted roses.
Rosa carolina flowers can be white to bright pink, usually one per stem. The stem features rounded thorns, and the leaves range from oblong to rounded. It can grow up to a meter tall, and it’s the most common species rose in the US.
Rosa glauca is a really lovely rose. It produces big clusters of single pink flowers with pale centers, and red hips in autumn. It grows vigorously and likes to arch, so it would be good growing up archways or awnings or as hedges. They’re often used by florists.
Rosa multiflora, also known as the seven-sisters rose, features white single flowers in sprays, and small leaves. It was imported in the late 1700s from Eastern Asia to control erosion and for its ornamental value. Sadly, like many imported plants, it interferes with native species, and in some parts of the US it’s destroyed as it’s considered invasive.
Rosa nitida is known for its lovely glossy leaves, which in autumn can turn bright red, yellow or purple. It also produces hips. You can usually find it near swamps, bogs or streams, as it’s pretty happy in wet soil.
Rosa rugosa refers to the ‘wrinkled’ leaves this plant features. It’s also known as Japanese rose, or letchberry. Native to Japan, Korea, southeastern Siberia and northeastern China, it’s an interesting rose. It grows naturally in sand dunes and boasts bright pink, red, and white flowers.
Rosa sericea has thorns shaped like a shark’s fin. Native to Bhutan, northern India, Myanmar and parts of china, this rose grows in mountains where the altitude ranges from 6,600-14,400 feet. The white flowers have only four petals, but its bright red thorns are a nice ornamental feature.
Rosa setigera features tight clusters of pink flowers on a shrub that reaches 4 foot tall. It can also be a climber, which, if supported correctly, can reach up to 15 foot. Native to Missouri, it spreads in moist soil along streams and roads. The thorns are usually found on the lower stems, and the leaves are ovate with pointed tips.
Heirloom roses are the hybrid roses that were found in European gardens before the trade of Rosa chinensis became widespread. They boast a really lovely fragrance and usually have rows upon rows of architectural petals, the flowers absolutely huge. They feature a longer stem which makes them a favorite for cut flowers. You can divide this group into one further: those heirloom roses that bloom once in a growing season, (Gallica, Alba, Moss, Damask, Centifolia, and Ayrshire) and those that bloom repeatedly (China, Bourbon, Portland, Hybrid, Noisette and Tea).
White Rose of York
You might have heard of this one from the War of the Roses, where it was used as a heraldic badge of the royal House of York, by Edmund of Langley (1341-1402). It was seen all over England, representing those who opposed the House of Lancaster, and fought for control of the English throne. Albas grow upright and tall, the flowers white or pink, with grey-green leaves.
Ayrshire roses, also known as Splendens, are ramblers and climbing roses – this means they’ll grow as ground cover as well as up supports – the name originating from Ayrshire in Scotland. The flowers are off-white or purplish-pink.
Bourbon roses are repeat bloomers. The name comes from where it was crossed, the Île de Bourbon in the Indian Ocean. The species hails from Autumn Damask and Old Blush China, created around 1817 and then introduced into France, where it was bred to form new hybrids.
Centifolia roses literally ‘hundred leaved rose’ have over a hundred petals! They usually require support, as the flower is very heavy, and the stem sometimes has trouble supporting it. They were created by Dutch breeders between the 17th Century and the 19th Century.
Introduced from China to Europe, these roses are one of the oldest types, and most hybrids come from a cross of China roses. Their flowers are naturally smaller, coming in pinks and reds, and they’re known for their fruity fragrance.
Damask roses, a cross between rosa and damascena, are believed to have originated from the Middle East. They’re often used in perfume because of their intense fragrance. Their blooms are huge, in white, pink, or red.
Rosa gallica is the oldest Western rose which survived the fall of the Roman Empire. They boast a strong fragrance and come in many colors, and grow close to the ground. In the War of the Roses, the red rose was believed to be rosa gallica officinalis, which became the symbol of Lancaster.
Hybrid perpetuals reach about two meters in height, and the large, fragrant blooms come in pink, red, purple, and white. These grew popular thanks to the Victorians, and were created by crossing Portlands, Chinas and Bourbons.
Moss roses are often confused with portulaca grandiflora, a succulent which bears the same common name. This rose releases a pine fragrance when you rub the calyx. They bloom heavily in early summer. They range from white to a very dark red.
Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’
Noisette roses were the first bred in America by two French nurserymen in the early 1800s. The flowers range from white, yellow to orange.
Portland roses are often used in containers as they are vigorous but they don’t get unruly. They boast pink flowers with a lovely fragrance. You can recognize these as they bloom ‘on the shoulder,’ which is to say, they have extremely short stems between a flower and the first leaf.
This is the type of rose people usually imagine when they think of a rose. They feature large blooms which are tea-scented, and come in shades ranging from pastel to red.
In 1867, a new type of hybrid tea rose was created, “La France”, from Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea rose. They come in many more colors than other times, and bloom repeatedly during the season.
Climbing roses need upright support for them to grow. Popular varieties include American Beauty, Lady Banks, and Fourth of July.
Meaning ‘many flowers’, these gorgeous roses bloom continuously throughout the growing season. Flowers come in large clusters, though the small trade-off is that they don’t grow very tall. Varieties include Mardi Gras, Arthur Bell, and Angel Face.
A hybrid of Floribunda and Hybrid Tea, these roses are used as barriers, as they grow up to two meters. They feature large flowers that grow in clusters. Types include Queen Elizabeth, Gold Medal and Shreveport.
Hybrid Tea Rose
Arguably the most popular roses today, this is thanks to their long flowering season. They boast around 40 petals per stem, and are used as cut flowers as they have a lovely fragrance. Peace, Midas Touch and Mr Lincoln are popular choices.
As you may guess from the name, every part of this plant is miniscule. They are often sold as indoor plants, though they do better outside.
Polyantha roses are typically used as edging plants, because they grow vigorously as short shrubs. They’re hardy and disease-resistant. Popular varieties include China Doll, The Fairy, and Mlle Cecile Brunner.
Tree roses, or standard tree roses, unlike those which are hybrids, are grafted roses. Different types are used to produce the different parts: one for strong roots, one for a long, upright stem, and the other to determine the rose itself.
Colors and What They Signify
Sadly, real black roses don’t exist yet. The color can be achieved by dyeing a dark red rose with blue dye. The meanings associated with this rose are devotion, death, rebirth, and love that’s ended badly.
We’re not quite there yet with blue roses, either. We’ve come close with pale lilac shades, but no cigar just yet. Aptly, blue roses signify the impossible, and fighting against all odds.
Green roses emerged as a chance mutation. The plant is sterile, as the petals are made of layers of sepals, so if you want another, you’ll have to propagate it with cuttings instead. They symbolize harmony, non-material wealth, and prosperity.
Orange roses are particularly uplifting. They represent positivity, fascination, a fierce love, and creativity. Being a combination of red and yellow, they represent love within friendship.
Pink roses symbolize happiness, sympathy, and appreciation. They also represent grace and elegance.
Purple roses often speak of a love so powerful, it happens at the first glance. Purple was often a color associated with royalty, as any purple-hued dye was immensely expensive, as it had to be harvested from a type of sea-snail.
Ah, the red rose. Popular throughout history, a red rose shouts of passionate love and the admiration of beauty.
White roses are no less beautiful than others, and appear nearly as often as red roses in history and literature. It signifies youth, sympathy, purity and innocence.
To the Victorians, yellow roses stood for jealousy. Yellow is too positive and too uplifting a shade to be associated with envy! In modern terms, they represent a non-romantic love, joy, remembrance, and the appreciation of friendship. They’ve been making a comeback recently.