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The Fragrant History of Roses

Aug 21, 2007
The love of flowers, especially the rose, is universal, one of the simple but beautiful things of life that cannot be destroyed even by the mechanization, noise, and overcrowding of modern cities. The poorest home in a city slum will have its geranium, its hollyhock, its cactus or its wallflower, and usually its rose, struggling for existence perhaps, but bravely representing man's undying love for plants.

Man is a gardener by instinct. However limited may be his opportunity because of restricted area, lack of leisure time, or physical disability, some use is made of the floral gifts that Nature pours out to us so generously.

Some houses and flats have no more than a commonplace shrub, a narrow strip of lawn, or just a window-box or a pot-plant a patch of color contrasting with a drab wall and unimaginative surroundings. Meager as it may be, each is somebody's garden, and is associated with an apparently inevitable affection for trees that give us shade, lawns that ease our tread and soften the surrounding harshness, and flowers with their wonderful fragrance and beauty.

There is beauty in any garden, small and simple, or large and elaborate. There is beauty in any plant, leaf, or flower-even in those we choose to call 'weeds'.

The rose has ever been the world's favorite flower, the pride of the rich and poor the rich because it has no superior, the poor because, despite its superiority, its plants have never been beyond their reach. Easy to grow, lavish with its blooms, adaptable to almost any conditions, the rose is the unchallenged Queen of Flowers.

By careful plant-breeding almost all flowers have been vastly improved in the last century, but the rose has maintained it is pre-eminence to such an extent that no garden seems complete without it, and its blooms are always the most cherished of cut flowers.

There are approximately five thousand varieties of roses being grown today, surely an embarrassment of riches, but the average rosarian surveys a modern catalogue, selects varieties that meet his needs, and is content. It is not the number he grows that matters; it is the pleasure he derives from them.

The origin of the rose is quite prehistoric; geologists tell us of evidence of its existence more than thirty-five million years ago. It is mentioned in many of the earliest writings, and it has been found indigenous to almost every part of the Northern Hemisphere, even to Iceland and Lapland, but never south of the Equator.

The Earliest Roses

All the original roses were five-petalled, but double roses have existed since long before any surviving records were made. These are really freaks, in that many of their stamens have been metamorphosed into petals. The earliest roses are usually referred to as rose species. They vary in color from white to deep pink and dull red, while yellow is represented by the double Rosa hemispherica (R. sulfhured) and, probably of earlier origin, the single JR. foetida (the Yellow Austrian Briar), a very misleading name, for its original habitat was from Crimea to Thibet, far from Austria.

Its companion, R. foetida var. hicolor, is the only bicoloured species, having, in most flowers, petals that are of a deep copper colour on the inner side and vivid yellow on the reverse; in some of its flowers yellow appears in stripes, on half a petal, or even more, in place of the darker colour.

R. centifolia (the Cabbage Rose, Hundred Petalled Rose, or Provence Rose) in the gardens of Midas is described by Herodotus (about 484-425 B.C.), "The Father of History". Hippocrates (460-361 B.C.), Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Virgil (70-19 B.C.), Ovid (43 B.c-A.D.17), Horace (65-8 B.C.), and Juvenal (A.D. 60-140) all laud the rose. Omar Khayyam (A.D. 1050-1123) knew R. damascena (the Damask Rose) and it still grows on his grave at Nishapur.

In the House of Frescoes at Knossus, Crete, is the earliest known European depiction of a rose, painted about 1550 B.C. It had six petals instead of the usual five, probably an error.

The love of roses will never die, but will live on to produce and nurture these wonderful flowers.
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