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Roses have long held an enormous amount of meaning ranging from abiding love to symbols of peace and beauty. According to the University of Illinois, roses have been around about 35 million years and cover the Northern hemisphere with more than 150 species. The Chinese first began cultivating roses in gardens about 5,000 years ago. Roses grew extensively in the Middle East during Roman times and were often ascribed with special meaning.


In the 15th century, warring factions in England used roses to symbolize families fighting over control of the country. The period was dubbed the “War of the Roses.” The York family adopted the white rose as its symbol, and the Lancasters took the red rose as a family symbol. During the 17th century, royalty used roses as legal tender because they were in such high demand. Even rosewater commanded the royals’ respect. Pierre Joseph Redoute made one of the first botanical illustrations based on the flowers produced in Napoleon’s wife’s garden. He drew “Les Rose” in 1824 after visiting Josephine’s extensive rose gardens.


Roses were an integral part of many religious ceremonies during the Middle Ages and were often found wrapped around the necks of Egyptian mummies. One of the reasons roses have been included in the healing practices of many religions is because of the heady scent they carry. During Christian holy festivals, the flowers were used as symbols of pure human delight in the gifts of nature. Sacred Greek and Roman frescoes include depictions of roses. The rosa sancta, or Holy Rose, continues to be grown in parts of sacred grounds in eastern Africa.


Roses in American society are typically associated with love. Red roses depict a deep, passionate love, while pink roses are more appropriate for someone with whom you have an infatuation. Knowing the meaning helps you avoid sending the wrong message to your flower recipient. Deep red roses are reserved for those with whom you have a romantic relationship and should not be given to anyone who might mistake your intentions. Purveyors of flowers such as ProFlowers count red roses as the most popular choice for anniversaries and romantic holidays. Purple roses symbolize long-lasting love and are common gifts for wedding anniversaries. Purple roses also are the favorite flower of widows and widowers to place on the graves of departed spouses.


Yellow roses are appropriate for friends. Previously, yellow roses symbolized jealousy, but according to the website Rose Gardening Made Easy, they have come to represent happiness and good feelings. Yellow roses also make a good flower for saying you’re sorry. Send orange roses to a friend or colleague as congratulations for reaching a milestone or other achievement. Orange roses are particularly popular for graduations and job promotions. Peach is the color of gratitude. Peach-colored roses make appropriate thank you gifts.