Meaning of a Rose in History, Art and Culture
The meaning of a rose includes remembrance, passion (red); purity (white); happiness (pink); friendship (yellow); unconscious beauty, and I love you. Few flowers have as strong a historic and symbolic resonance as the rose.
The dominant symbolic association we have with roses is romance and love, however they have also meaning as symbols of war, politics, beauty, power, and mysticism.
Meaning of a Rose in Christian Art
Wild roses have five petals. This has led to their symbolic connection to the wounds of Christ in Christian iconography. The rose also symbolizes the Virgin Mary herself, who was known as the “Mystic Rose.” Read more about red flower color meaning.
Fascinating Facts About Roses
The most expensive flower in the world is the Juliet rose, a pale peach colored rose that took 15 years to cultivate. It was displayed at the 2006 Chelsea Flower Show in England. The plant is valued at $15.8 million. The oldest living rose bush, called the “Thousand-year Rose”, grows on the outer wall of a cathedral in Hildesheim, Germany.
The oldest variety of rose is the Rosa Gallica Officinalis, also known as the “Apothecary’s Rose”. This rose is still used today to produce oil, perfume, and cosmetics. Rose water is a popular flavoring ingredient in jellies and Asian dishes. Rose hips, a wild variety of roses, make a great tea that is high in Vitamin C.
Meaning of a Rose in Ancient History
There are fossil records dating roses back some 35 million years. Roses are native to the United States. Montana and Oregon have the oldest rose fossils.
The rose has the most complex family tree of any known flower species with over 30,000 varieties. Roses were first cultivated 5,000 years ago in Asian gardens. In the Orient, ladies carried rose petals in their purses and gentlemen made wine and herbal medicine with the flowers.
Along with the name Orchid, the name Rose is one of the most popular names for girls in China. Confucius wrote that the emperor of China owned over 600 books on the cultivation of roses.
Meaning of a Rose in Europe
Roses were introduced to Europe during the Roman Empire and were thereafter used for ornamental purposes. Romans were known to carpet huge banquet halls with rose petals. The Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is appropriately associated with the symbol of a rose.
Experts divide roses into two groups. “Old roses” are those cultivated in Europe before 1800. “Modern roses” have been cultivated since about the turn of the 19th century. Before cultivation, roses typically bloomed only once per year. Now roses are blooming somewhere every day of the year.
Sunday Roses Painting by Kathleen Karlsen
Author’s Note: My paternal great-grandmother was named Rose. My maternal grandmother was known for her incredible rose bushes that grew two stories high outside her apartment. When my daughter was born, we named her Rose.
The rose is highly significant in the history of England: “The rose also became the symbol of the civil wars that took place in the 15th century in England. The House of Lancaster took the symbol of a red rose, while the House of York chose a white rose. Many years later, the two roses were combined into one symbol. The Tudor Rose became the Rose of England, which continues to be one of the most identifiable symbols in the UK.” https://www.floraly.com.au/blogs/news/rose-symbolism-colours-and-meanings
Meaning of a Rose in Rome and Egypt
Persians, Turks, and Egyptians were cultivating roses for centuries before European knights fighting in the Crusades brought roses back with them to Europe. It is said that when Cleopatra was courting Marc Antony, she would have her fountains filled with rose water and the floor covered in rose petals to welcome him. Ancient Egyptians also associated roses with Isis, the goddess of love and the afterlife. Egyptians saw the cyclical blooming of roses as symbolic of death and rebirth in the afterlife. They would put rose petals in tombs and used them during the mummification process.
Spiritual Meaning of a Rose
Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan believed that the rose and the soul had many similarities. He viewed the rose bud opening up as a parallel to the soul experiencing God. He believed that when the basic needs of the rose and soul are met (nourishment, sunshine, water, air, space), both will blossom.
Some Native American tribes saw wild roses as protective, sacred flowers. The Nez Perce, Salish, and Paiute people believed that roses protected the living from harmful spirits.
Meaning of a Rose in Song and Literature
Over 4,000 songs have been written about roses. Roses are also the inspiration for everything from wallpaper to china patterns to fabric designs. Roses are a recurring theme in artwork, furniture, architecture and poetry.
Shakespeare mentions the rose at least 70 times in his plays and sonnets. Roses are emblems of England and New York City. The essential oils from roses are more expensive than the essential oils of any other flower. The rose is, indeed, the queen of all flowers.
Many flowers including roses are used to create essential oils. Young Living Essential Oils uses rose oil in many blends including a beautiful blend called Joy. Learn more about the benefits of essential oil diffusion on the Essential Drops of Joy website. Buy essential oils at discounted rates (24% off) with Kathleen Karlsen as your mentor (Brand Partner #1043288) at Young Living Essential Oils.
More Flower Resources
Explore the meaning of flower colors, the history of the Victorian language of flowers, the symbolic meaning of flowers in art and over a dozen articles on specific flowers on this website.
Click on a flower photo below for additional articles.
Floral Art & Gifts
Floral artwork and gifts on this site are based on paintings by Kathleen Karlsen. Other prints and gifts including yoga symbols, Eastern deities and more are based on illustrations by Rose Karlsen and Sammy Ater. See all ARTWORK categories and products.
Meet Kathleen Karlsen
Kathleen Karlsen is the author of the book Flower Symbols: The Language of Love by Kathleen Karlsen. The handy reference book includes extensive flower meanings and folklore about the world’s most beloved flowers. The perfect gift for yourself or a flower lover in your life!
Kathleen is a writer, artist and musician living in Bozeman, Montana. She is the mother of five kids (teen to adult) and the author of two books. Kathleen’s other book is Vocal Medicine: Transformation through Sound. Listen to Kathleen’s MUSIC and see more of her ARTWORK.