The Meaning of a Rose
The rose is a universal symbol of love, desire, and beauty—and the most popular flower on Valentine's Day. The rose's significance originated in antiquity, and has also influenced over time by Western tradition, mythology, and religion. We've put together a slide show decoding the meanings of different hues and varieties of roses, as well as interesting bits of history behind this favorite flower. Click through to see what type of roses you should be sending this Valentine's Day.
For more on growing roses, see: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Roses
A rose’s meaning is often based on its natural appearance or character, as well as its cultural history. The cabbage rose traditionally translates as “love’s ambassador.” It is frequently used in perfumery and its unique and intoxicating fragrance calls to mind the addicting nature of love, which is perhaps why this particular kind of rose acts as the heart’s messenger.
The scent of a rose has titillated human noses for centuries. Cleopatra was no exception—Egyptologists believe that she had her pillows stuffed with fresh rose petals every evening.
A fully bloomed, blood-red rose says “I love you,” and personifies youthful, breath-taking beauty.
The “language of flowers,” or the symbolism of flowers, was popularized in Victorian times. During this era, there was a proliferation of dictionaries and guides listing flowers and their respective meanings that provided the common man and woman with an opportunity to playfully exchange their romantic sentiments.
A rosebud's tender age makes it a convincing symbol of innocent hope, youth, chastity, and beauty.
According to Roman mythology, a rose's aesthetic may have been created with a purpose: It is said that the jealous goddess of nature, Cybele, created the first rose in an effort to trump Venus’s beauty.
The humble white rose has traditionally symbolized unity, silence, love, respect, and beauty.
Many Victorian guides to the language of flowers also translate the gift of a full-blown white rose as the statement "I am worthy."
Although roses were central to the beliefs and practices of many polytheistic cultures, it was the Christians who linked pink roses with the Virgin Mary. As a result, the pink rose is synonymous with chastity and celestial love, as well as peace, grace, and beauty.
Flowers were used by Victorians to express a wide range of sentiments, including negative ones. A recipient of withered roses would have interpreted the message as a grim statement of death or despair.
Depending upon the circumstances, the significance of a yellow rose can change dramatically. While in some instances it can represent friendship and forgiveness, in others it can demonstrate jealousy and unfaithfulness.
In Victorian times, it was not uncommon for a flower’s meaning to be misinterpreted, as a flower’s common name often varied from region to region. Authors of the popular Victorian reference books also sometimes chose their definitions arbitrarily, further muddling a flower’s meaning.
Shakespeare wrote "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet," in Romeo and Juliet. Though it's true that any rose will smell sweet, you may want to carefully consider what color and type of rose you send your Valentine this year, if you believe that the language of flowers may speak the truth.