St Georges Day: history of the red rose

by Charlotte.Barnes on April 20, 2012

With St. George’s Day a few days away we thought we’d take a look at England’s flower; the red rose. Evidence would suggest that the red rose is 35 million years old. It’s also been popular in myth and legend throughout the years, as well as playing a big part in romantic culture. Here are some of the highlights from the history of this iconic flower.

The Egyptians

Rose fossils have been found near to ancient Egyptian tombs. They are thought to have named the rose the flower of Egypt because of its healing and aphrodisiac properties. They even believed the rose’s power was so strong that it could work the magic of love beyond the grave.

The Egyptians made a paste by boiling roses and collecting the residue. The paste was then used for healing and beautifying purposes. It is also said that Cleopatra had her bed strewn with fresh rose petals every day.

The Greeks

pink rosesAccording to the Greeks, the rose was created by Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It is said that white roses sprung from the sea foam that surrounded her as she rose from the water.

The goddess of flowers, Cloris, named the rose the Queen of Flowers. Aphrodite gave a rose to her son Eros as a sign of love and Eros then gave a rose to the god of silence, Harpocrates, asking him not to gossip.

The Romans

The Romans used roses extensively in perfumes and in medicine. They also identified roses with their goddess of love, Venus. It was fashionable to spread rose petals a few inches deep on the floors of banquet halls.

Roses lost their popularity after the fall of the Roman Empire, but they continued to grow in monastery gardens were they were used for medicinal purposes.

The Middle Ages

In the middle ages a rose was suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber, pledging all present to secrecy. This was called being ‘sub rosa’ or under the rose.

War of the Roses

Image credit - SodacanThis was a battle for the throne of England between the two rival houses of Lancaster and York. The reason it was called the War of the Roses was because the Lancastrians’ symbol was the red rose and the Yorkists’ was a white rose.

After many battles and the throne seeing many kings, Henry VII – a Lancastrian – married Elizabeth of York, ending the war 1485. The white and red roses of the two families were combined to form the Tudor rose.

Victorian Era

Roses became a true symbol of love in Britain in the Victorian Era, when the language of flowers was created.

This allowed people to convey hidden messages according to the flowers they sent. Red roses represented true love, but all the other colours had their own meanings too.

  • Red – True love
  • Yellow – Friendship, jealousy, infidelity or apology
  • Orange – Desire and passion
  • Lavender – Love at first sight
  • Pink – Gratitude, desire, passion, energy and youth
  • White – Eternal love, silence or innocence
  • Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Rose breeding

Roses became popular again when Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, started growing roses in her garden. Another boost then came in 1830 when beautiful Chinese roses were cross-bred with European specimens. Further cross breeding produced the first Hybrid Tea roses in 1870. Rose breeding progressed further in the 1900s, when hybrids bloomed for a long time, were colourful and also quite hardy.

Because roses were now so easy to grow, they became ever more popular, leading to the introduction of English roses and miniature roses.

Take a look at Interflora’s extensive collection of roses over at

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Charlotte Barnes

Post category: Flowers, Knowledge, Occasions, Roses  

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