Roses, rows, and rows of roses. That is what you’re often met with when entering any flower shop or floral department. Roses are one of the most popular cut flowers in the entire floral industry. Over the years the fragrant, multi-petaled flower has become a popular choice for a wide variety of celebrations, and cultural practices around the world. Different color roses mean many different things. Roses are still the most popular choice for expressing affection to another human being. But where do roses come from? How did they rise to such fame in the floral trade? Why roses and not say carnations which are debatably as pretty and certainly more affordable. This piece started out as the search to answer a simple question: where do our roses come from? But, we learned so much more!!
Roses are as old as civilization itself
Let’s start at the beginning! Where did roses come from and how did they become so darn popular? Well, roses have been documented in use as far back as 2000BC in what is now recognised as Iraq. The Chinese started cultivating them in 500BC and further studies show them being used in Rome and all over Europe. At that time roses were so popular you could even use them as a form of legal currency in trade. Roses have been used in medicine, beauty products, perfume and decoratively for literally thousands of years! Safe to say they have been working on their popularity with humans longer than any other flower in existence.
Roses in North America
Our North American love affair with roses likely came from European influence, when they crossed the sea and began the colonization of North America. They brought their traditions with them which included the popularity for roses and rose gardens among the elite. The oldest public, formal rose garden in North America is in Hartford Connecticut and was created in 1904 by Theodore Wirth. At the time he envisioned eight large archways, each overflowing with a different variety of rose. Drawing his inspiration from Italy and France, using their traditional rose gardens as a guide for his creation. More than one hundred years later the eight archways are still blooming every June. The two oldest public rose displays in Canada are the rose gardens at The Butchart Gardens and in Stanley Park in Vancouver.
Why are red roses a symbol of love?
The roses’ popularity for being a symbol of romance and passion has ancient roots. Nearly every culture and religion in the world associates the red rose with love, passion, and longing. Today we likely do not think too long on why we associate them with true love but there is a long list of myths and legends that brought about this common cultural practice. One such myth being that of Aphrodite the ever-famous goddess of love. In Greek mythology red roses grew from Aphrodite’s tears and the blood of her mortal lover Adonis, when he died in her arms. In another version she pricks her foot on a white rose while rushing to Adonis’s side after he is brutally maimed by a wild boar when hunting. The rose goes red from the blood and is the first red rose to ever grow and remains a symbol of Aphrodite’s love for Adonis. This is one of the most famous and widely known myths around the red rose and how it came to be. It’s one of the clearest ties between our dear red rose and its significance in our floral industry today.
There are now 300 species of roses and 30,000 varieties available around the world. Long stemmed roses are the most common variety sold in florist shops, especially on Valentines day. They are a hybrid tea variety and while you can certainly try to grow them in your own garden, they are renowned for being quite finicky. If one country can confidently say they have mastered the art of growing roses, you may be surprised to learn its Ecuador. While we commonly picture bountiful English gardens filled with rose bushes, Ecuador has perfected the practice of growing flowers.They are the third largest producer of cut flowers and 75% of those flowers are roses! The fact that they are such a huge player in the floral trade is amazing considering they haven’t been in the game for very long, they started exporting flowers in the 90’s. Their roses are now recognized as some of the highest quality roses in the world! Florists prefer them over other roses due to their larger size, scent, and longevity, allegedly lasting up to two weeks with proper care! What’s Ecuador’s secret? Well unfortunately not one we can replicate at home. Their long hours of sunlight due to their position on our equator and the very high altitude they grow them are both major factors in producing such exquisite blooms. Most of their roses are grown at 2,800 to 3,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains. As a result, they take longer to grow, producing longer stems and healthier overall flowers. So, unless you’re conveniently living on a very tall mountain in South America you may find it difficult to replicate the roses we see for sale in stores today.
Grow your own!
What variety can you grow at home then? Like any plant that’s going to depend on your unique environment. If you’re in Canada or living somewhere in the more northern reaches of America, you will want to source out varieties that are hardy and resilient. Climbing roses and shrub varieties are generally easy bets, they do not need extensive care and will tolerate some neglect. Damask roses are very popular, mostly for their very strong smell and easy-going care requirements. They are also known as “old world roses” as they have been grown for as long as roses have been cultivated. Wild Nootka roses are a personal favorite of mine, they grow across Vancouver Island and the southern gulf islands and generally start blooming around late May and throughout early summer. They have a strong but delicate rose scent and very pretty five petaled light pink flowers. The petals and the resulting rose hips are both edible and when gathered and prepared correctly can be quite delicious. In fact, if you ever get the chance to try rose flavored gelato, I highly recommend it!