Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns.
I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Alphonse Karr, French novelist, 1808-1890
If your Christmas mistletoe kiss has led to a mid-winter romance, Valentine’s Day is the ideal time to follow up with a message of love conveyed by the flower most associated with romance: the rose.
The once wild and simple flower has evolved to a showy, hybridized blossom with dignified, proud names of honor. Scientists have found fossil images of the dog rose, or R. canina, (from which all roses are believed to have come) in Colorado, dating back more than 40 million years. The rose it seems has always been with us.
The Greeks and Chinese have cultivated roses for more than 3,000 years for medicinal uses: remedies for headaches, toothaches, earaches, intestinal diseases, hangovers, insomnia, nosebleeds, hemorrhages, perspiration and rabies. Even before the beneficial properties of vitamins were discovered, the ancients must have known roses contained ingredients that promote health and healing.
Chloris, the Greek goddess of flowers bestowed the title “Queen of all Flowers” on the rose. Through the ages, the rose has been honored as such in art, song, and verse – from the poetry of Shakespeare and Burns to the nursery rhymes of our childhood (think: Ring around the Rosie).
The extravagant use of roses during the time of the Roman Empire came to represent the excesses and indulgences of that period. Nero once decorated his banquet hall with more than one million rose blossoms. Another time, his guests were almost smothered when a deluge of rose petals fell from the ceiling during a gala. In fact, the Romans had such a passion for roses they imported the flower not by the cart but by the barge load from Egypt where the growing season was longer.
Such excess was not limited to the Romans. Cleopatra once carpeted a room almost two feet deep in rose petals for a rendevous with Marc Antony. Catherine of Baganza in Portugal traveled to the Orient for the imported roses she used for her wedding to Charles II of England. For Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, roses were more than a prized collection of blossoms. Before she went out in public, she picked enough roses from her 250 varieties to fill a bouquet to carry in front of her bad teeth.
But, all was not love, luxury and romance in the history of roses. The flower has its own war stories to tell. In the 30-year War of the Roses in England, the House of York was represented by a white rose; the house of Lancaster by a red rose. The conflict ended with the marriage of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII, uniting the two rival houses. In celebration of their wedding, a red rose was planted on one side of the entrance to the church and a white one on the other to represent peace and unity. Legend claims that on the following morning, a new rose bush appeared with blossoms that blended the red and white colors. It is known as the York and Lancaster Rose.
In World War II, the ivory Peace Rose almost became a casualty when the Nazis invaded the home of breeder Francis Meilland. He smuggled the rose out of Europe in 1940 to the custody and protection of his business partner Robert Pyle.
A talented breeder in his own right, Pyle carefully tended the orphan rose. It flourished under his care, and with its first blossom, Pyle was convinced the rose would be recognized as one of the greatest roses of the century. He introduced the specimen rose on April 29, 1945, the day the Allies captured Berlin. The flower was named “Peace” and it became an immediate symbol of hope for a weary, war-torn world.
Later that year, Dr. Ray Allen, secretary of the American Rose Society, sent a long-stemmed Peace Rose to each delegate at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations. Each rose carried the note, “We hope the Peace rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace.”
Perhaps we should all take the time to smell the fragrance of the Peace Rose.