Throughout the history of civilization, the rose has stirred us with its beauty, filled our senses with its perfume, expressed our love, inspired our literature, art and sparked our imaginations.No other flower has been so immortalized and integrated into daily life as the rose. From poetry to music, from festivities to wars, birth to death, holidays, the rose has held a unique role; they have been symbols of love, beauty, war, and politics.
The rose is, according to fossil evidence, 35 million years old. Garden cultivation of roses began some 5,000 years ago. During the Roman period, roses were grown extensively in the Middle East. They were used as confetti at celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. Mention of roses appeared frequently in the written records of early civilizations, such as those of the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans.
Confucius (551-479 BC) was reported to have many books in his library on how to care for roses. It is said that Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was so enamored of them that on special occasions the floor of her palace was carpeted with rose petals.
The oldest garden rose is called the apothecary rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, and it was believed to cure a multitude of illnesses. According to Greek mythology, the rose is the flower of love. Endowed with beauty, charm, joy and sweet scent, it was created by the Greek goddess of flowers out of a body of a nymph.
Roses were considered special by the Romans and they were grown for pleasure and for use at wedding celebrations, as medicine, and to make perfumes and fragrant oils. In the 15th century roses became the political symbol of the York (white rose) and Tudor (red rose) families, who were fighting for control of England in what became known as the “War of the Roses”. Empress Josephine of France (1763-1814) is perhaps the best known patron of roses. In her gardens at Malmaison, she grew over 250 varieties of roses.
Napoleon’s wife Josephine was an avid rose collector and established a fabulous rose garden at her estate just outside Paris. It is rumoured that she was so attached to her rose garden that an English nurseryman was allowed behind French battle lines during the French Revolution just to care for her flowers.
Roses were in such high demand during the seventeenth century that royalty considered roses or rose water as legal tender, and they were often used as barter and for payments.
Napoleon's wife Josephine established an extensive collection of roses at Chateau de Malmaison, an estate seven miles west of Paris in the 1800s. This garden became the setting for Pierre Joseph Redoute's work as a botanical illustrator. In 1824, he completed his watercolour collection "Les Rose," which is still considered one of the finest records of botanical illustration.
The rose is the supreme symbol of the heart and the heart chakra. The US Congress designated the rose as the national floral emblem of the United States.