Rose Flower Meanings, Symbolism, History & Mythology

Red Roses

Rose flower meanings include love, passion, romance, beauty, discretion, elegance, luxury, and sensuality. While we love roses today, they are actually ancient flowers. In fact, paleontologists discovered rose fossils that are 35 million years old. And early horticulturists began cultivating roses about 5,000 years ago. These exquisite flowers have enjoyed a devoted following of lovers, artists, and gardeners ever since. In this post, you’ll learn about rose meanings and symbols, including rose color meanings, as well as rose history, mythology, and spiritual meanings.

Rose Garden in Sunlight

What does a rose symbolize?

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Undoubtedly, this quote has endured the test of time because the rose is such an exquisite flower. We humans have a history with this flower. And that history is heavy with meaning, experiences, and emotions. Here are just a few of the rose’s important meanings in our lives:

  • Love
  • Passion
  • Romance
  • Beauty
  • Discretion
  • Elegance
  • Luxury
  • Sensuality

Rose Color Meanings

Roses have been cultivated into a range of beautiful hues, and each color has special meaning.

White Rose Meaning

White Rose
Photo: Sabina Bajracharya.

White rose meanings include pure beauty, elegance, faith, love, and reverence.

White roses are the perfect symbol for the kinds of occasions that mark a lifetime, from births and christenings to weddings, memorials, and other important events that require special recognition. As symbols of pure elegance, white roses are also beautiful in gardens and flower arrangements where the home is a sanctuary.

Ivory Rose Meaning

Ivory roses symbolize elegance, grace, luxury, and discretion. With their classic, creamy hue, ivory roses are beautiful when combined with white or other colored roses. They always add a level of classic elegance. Ivory roses make beautiful, understated gifts for loved ones who favor elegance over flashiness.

Yellow Rose Meaning

Yellow Roses

“Oh the yellow rose of Texas is the only girl I love… Her heart’s as big as Texas and wherever I may go, I’ll remember her forever because I love her so.”
– Elvis Presley, The Eyes of Texas

If a flower could embody the open-hearted friendliness of the people of Texas, it would be the yellow rose. Yellow roses symbolize friendship, generosity, optimism, and gratitude. They make wonderful thank you gifts as well as presents for friends, family members, and anyone whose spirits you want to lift.

Pink Rose Meaning

Pink rose meanings include love, especially platonic love, beauty, admiration, tenderness, and care.

Light pink roses make wonderful gifts for female relatives, friends, and girls, or for men who love the color pink.

Hot pink roses convey the same meanings as pale pink roses, but they can also signify romantic love. They are perfect for occasions such as bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and other fun occasions. In addition, bright pink roses make lovely gifts for people in your life who have vibrant personalities.

Many wild roses, including desert roses, are shades of pink, from pale pink to fuchsia. So, wild roses are wonderful in gardens or as gifts for the people in your life who are nature lovers or who have a wild side.

Red Rose Meaning

Red Rose MeaningRed roses are the embodiment of passionate, romantic love. In fact, they are such a powerful symbol of romantic love that it’s practically verboten to give them to someone for any other reason than you’re in love with them. If they’re diluted in a bouquet with other types of flowers you might get away with giving them to someone other than your heartthrob!

Red roses symbolize romance, passion, sensuality, and love. They’re perfect for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or any other occasion where you want to convey your romantic feelings for another. In addition, red roses in the garden are good luck symbols for love and prosperity in the home.

Orange Rose Meaning

Orange Roses

Orange roses come in a range of hues, from pale peach to yellow-orange to fiery orange.

Peach-colored roses symbolize platonic love, admiration, and solicitude. As orange is the color of health and vitality, peach roses are lovely gifts for someone undergoing a health challenge. They’re also lovely in bridal bouquets, for baby and bridal showers, and similar occasions.

Bright orange rose meaning includes health, vitality, confidence, and offbeat love affairs. Orange roses make perfect gifts, whether in bouquets or gardens, for the people in your life who march to the beat of their own drum, who love to laugh, and who enjoy flair.

Green Rose Meaning

Believe it or not, green roses do exists, though they are unusual. In fact, horticulturists began cultivating green roses in the 17th century. Green roses symbolize freedom, fertility, new beginnings, and renewal.

Green roses are symbols of freedom and new beginnings because in the 18th century, Quaker abolitionists planted them in their gardens to signify that they were part of the Underground Railroad. In the U.S. in the 19th century, the Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and secret routes, which enslaved people could use as they escaped slavery.

Green is also the color of spring, another reason it symbolizes new beginnings as well as fertility and renewal.

Hence green roses make lovely additions to gardens as well as gifts for occasions such as baby showers, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Blue Rose Meaning

Blue roses don’t naturally occur in nature, but they can be produced with blue dyes or new biotechnology. On the biotech front, scientists have discovered a way to turn white roses blue by introducing blue pigment-producing enzymes from bacteria into the petals.

Blue roses symbolize trust, loyalty, honor, and friendship – as in a “true blue friend.” Hence, they make special gifts for close friends, colleagues, and other people whom you trust and respect.

Purple Rose Meaning

Purple Roses

Purples roses come in a range of hues, from lavender to royal purple. The color purple symbolizes peace, royalty, and spiritual enlightenment.

In addition, lavender roses symbolize romance, beauty, elegance, and luxury. They are versatile flowers that are appropriate for a range of occasions, from birthdays to graduations, weddings, and as thank you gifts. Special people appreciate the color purple, so it’s good to know who those people are in your life!

Dark purple roses blend the warmth of red with the coolness of blue. They symbolize majesty, elegance, sensuality, fun, and harmony. Giving the gift of purple roses or growing them in your garden will be appreciated by the special people in the world who love the color purple.

Purple is also a color that symbolizes finding harmony with others and reaching for spiritual enlightenment. So, lavender or purple roses are ideal for meditation or peace gardens.

Black Rose Meaning

Black roses do not naturally occur in nature, however, there are some shades of dark red roses, including dark burgundy and magenta, that are so dark they almost look black. In addition, some florists will dye white roses black.

Black rose meaning includes elegance, formality, luxury, discretion, mystery, and rebellion. So, they are fun gifts on Halloween and for the people in your life who are rebellious, mysterious, or who simply love the wear black clothes!

Multicolored Rose Meanings

For those who love color, roses also come in a number of multicolored variations. Multicolored roses signify the meanings of their color combinations. In addition, they’re synonymous with joy, fun, and diversity. They are ideal for any event that’s worth celebrating.

Rose Spiritual Meanings

Rose Garden

On a spiritual level, like a lotus flower, a rose in full bloom represents reaching spiritual enlightenment. Furthermore, the thorns on the rose’s stem symbolize the travails we go through on the physical plane, which help our souls to learn and evolve.

The Flowers of Goddesses

A number of cultures associated roses with their goddesses. For example, the Greeks associated the rose with their goddess of love, Aphrodite. While the Egyptians associated the rose with Isis. Furthermore, Christians associate roses with Mary.

Islam, Christianity, and the Crusades

The Persians, Turks, and other peoples of the Middle East were cultivating roses for centuries before the Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries. In contrast to the bloody battling that went on, some European knights saw fit to bring some of the beautiful roses they say in the Middle East back home with them.

For the Muslims, roses already had special spiritual meaning: They believed that roses sprouted from drops of Mohammad’s sweat when they hit the ground.

Roses came to have spiritual meanings for Christians as well, as they associated them with the blood of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Rose Gardens and the Garden of Eden

Both early Muslims and Christian monks planted rose gardens on the grounds of their mosques and monasteries to represent the Garden of Eden. In addition, they would plant a tree in the center of the garden to represent the Tree or Life, or the Tree of Knowledge.

The Rose in Sufism

Hazrat Inayat Khan
Hazrat Inayat Khan playing a veena. Ca 1910. Photo: Unknown.

The famous Sufi philosopher and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan compared the rose to the soul. He said that a rose blooming from bud to fully formed flower is like the soul opening up to God. And both the rose and the sun have the same needs: fertile soil, bright sun, clean water, clean air, and room to grow.

“The soul becomes like a rose and begins to show the rose quality. Just as the rose consists of many petals held together, so the person who attains to the unfoldment of the soul begins to show many different qualities. These qualities emit fragrance in the form of a spiritual personality.

The rose has a beautiful structure and the personality which proves the unfoldment of the soul has a fine structure: in manner, in dealing with others, in speech, in action. The atmosphere of the spiritual being pervades the air like the perfume of the rose. The rose has seeds in its heart, and so the developed souls have in their heart that seed of development which produces many roses.”

Associated Spirit Animals

Bee on a Wild Rose

The rose shares some traits and symbiosis with certain wild animals and insects. For example, bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are all attracted to roses. The rose feeds them while they, in turn, pollinate more roses and extend their life force. In addition, animals like deer and rabbits gravitate to roses as a food source.

On a symbolic level, animals such as the seahorse, eagle, and the swan all share meanings with the rose because as monogamous animals, they all symbolize true love and devotion.

Roses in History and Mythology

Because roses have been cultivated for so long and they are loved by people around the world, they are fixtures in the mythology and folklore or many cultures. Here are some of those stories:

Rose Meanings in China

There is evidence that the Chinese, as well as the ancient Sumerians in the Middle East, were cultivating roses about 5,000 years ago. From there, the beautiful flowers eventually gained popularity around the world.

In 500 BC, the philosopher Confucius wrote about the hundreds of books about roses in the emperor’s library. And roses became extremely popular during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) when they were planted around palaces and in parks.

In China, the rose came to symbolize beauty. And a red China rose signified wealth and good luck. If a rose was depicted with a hibiscus flower, it signified good luck and longevity.

The Rose in the Middle East

Nightingale

There is an Arabian story about how the rose became red. A long time ago, roses used to be all white. One evening, a nightingale came to a rose garden and fell in love with the roses. He loved their scent so much that he began to sing to them. Wanting to get closer to absorb more of their scent, the nightingale pressed his breast up to the nearest rose. However, he pressed too tightly and one of the thorns pierced his breast. Undeterred, the nightingale continued to sing to the rose as he bled on it. And this is how roses became red.

Rose in Greek Mythology

Psyche at Eros' Rose Garden

“The Soul of the Rose.” Mortal woman Psyche smelling roses in Eros’ rose garden. Artist: John William Waterhouse, 1908.

The ancient Greeks associated Aphrodite, their goddess of love, with the rose. According to some stories, Aphrodite named her son Eros after the rose, though she rearranged the letters.

Eros knew of his mother’s sexual escapades, which Aphrodite wanted to keep secret. So, she gave her son a rose to keep him quiet. The rose symbolized not only love and beauty, but secrecy in Greek society.

In another myth, Aphrodite adopted the handsome young man Adonis. While hunting one day, Adonis came upon a wild boar. He tried to kill the boar, not realizing he was the god Ares in disguise, a former lover of Aphrodite’s. However, Ares attacked Adonis first. Adonis lay bleeding and dying from his wound as Aphrodite rushed to his side. And as Adonis’ blood poured over the forest floor, roses started to grow.

Rose Meaning in Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans also fell in love with roses. For the Romans, the rose symbolized beauty, passion, and secrecy. They were fond of rose water baths and they used rose petals for confetti.

From the Greek tradition, the rose also symbolized secrecy and discretion in Roman society. In an clandestine Roman military operation, general met behind a giant rose bush. From then, if something was done in secret, it was called sub rosa, which means “beneath the rose.” For example, when the Romans would have their decadent parties, if roses were painted on the ceiling, it meant the party was sub rosa. So, it seems that the 21st century equivalent of sub rosa is “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Rose Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

Ruth St. Denis with Rose
Dancer and actor Ruth St. Denis as Cleopatra, holding a rose. Image: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

The ancient Egyptians associated roses with the goddess Isis. Not only was she a love goddess, but Isis also played a role in helping the dead enter the afterlife. So, roses were sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

As the rose would bloom, die, and then bloom again, for the Egyptians it symbolized the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth to the afterlife. In fact, the Egyptians included rose petals in tombs and during the mummification process.

Furthermore, according to Egyptian legends, Cleopatra used roses and rose water to seduce the Roman general Mark Anthony.

Wild Roses in Native American Culture

Wild Roses

The Native Americans were familiar with wild roses, which some tribes viewed as sacred, protective flowers. For example, the Paiute, Nez Perce, and Salish Peoples believed that wild roses protected the living from harmful spirits. They also believed roses kept people healthy. Hence, they would put wild roses around babies’ beds to protect them. In addition, they stitched rose motifs in clothing, blankets, and artwork. The Native Americans also used wild roses, including rose hips, in food and medicine.

Rose Tattoo Meaning

Rose Tattoo

Competing only with an arrow through a heart or simply “Mom,” a rose tattoo is arguably the quintessential tattoo. People with rose tattoos live from their hearts. They know, as the poet Virgil wrote, that love conquers all. While tattoos are unique to each person whose body they adorn, a rose tattoo is always a heavy duty tattoo. After all, it symbolizes the mysticism, passion, and devotion of the most powerful force in the Universe.

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