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Rose History

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Old Garden Roses


The Santa Barbara Rose Society is an affiliate of the American Rose Society www.ars.org


Rose History

No one knows for certain just when roses
came into being, although fossil evidence
in Colorado and Oregon indicates that
roses were growing some 35 million years
ago. Wild roses - of which there are about
150 species - are found throughout the northern hemisphere, growing in swampy to very dry soils. They almost always have 5 petals; a few have only four. (Roses belong to the botanic family that includes apples, pears and raspberries.)

The cultivation of roses in gardens most likely began about 5,000 years ago in China. The earliest known written reference to roses growing in a garden is from about 3,000 years ago in a Sumerian record found at Ur, an ancient city of Mesopotamia (NW of Basra in what is now Iraq). Other clay tablets describe the delivery of rose water to the Sultan of Bagdhad. Confucius (551-479 BC) was reported to have many books in his library on how to care for roses. It is said that Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was so enamored of them that on special occasions the floor of her palace was carpeted with rose petals.

According to Greek mythology, the rose is the flower of love. Endowed with beauty, charm, joy and sweet scent, it was created by the Greek goddess of flowers out of a lifeless body of a nymph.

Roman legend tells of a maiden so beautiful that she was pursued by many suitors. She took refuge in the temple of the goddess Diana who became jealous. When the suitors broke down her temple gates to get near their beloved maiden, she turned the maiden into a rose and her suitors into thorns.

After the disintegration of the Roman Empire and the decline of the importance of roses, they found refuge in monasteries. It was a rule that at least one monk should be well versed in botany and familiar with the medicinal and healing virtues of plants. The oldest garden rose is called the apothecary rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, (to the right - painting by Pierre-Joseph Redouté) and it was believed to cure a multitude of illnesses.

In this period Baghdad was famous for its rose gardens. The leaders of the civilizations of the area are often shown holding a rose.

It was not until the Crusaders of the 12th and 13th
centuries brought back specimens of Damask roses from their travels to the Middle East that they once more became popular in Europe. During the 17th century, roses were in such high demand that royalty used roses and rose water as legal tender to purchase other items or pay off debts.

A 1597 listing of roses had 14 varieties. By 1629 another listing had 24 kinds. European hybridizers became active in the 18th century, and by the end of that century there were over 1,000 varieties.

Empress Josephine of France (1763-1814) is perhaps the best known patron of roses. In her gardens at Malmaison, she grew over 250 varieties of roses. She sent expeditions all over the world in search of unknown kinds, and she managed to get ships carrying them through wartime blockades of French ports.

The characteristics of hardy European roses which bloomed over a very limited period of time and of less hardy Asian roses which bloomed throughout the warm season began to be combined when between about 1750 and 1830 some quite different re-blooming roses were imported from the Orient. These were the China Roses and the Tea Roses. In 1820 the once-blooming European Gallicas, Damasks, Mosses and Centifolias completely dominated rose gardens. In 1830 the first Hybrid Perpetual became available. By 1840 some re-bloom was expected of all roses, and the Bourbons, Chinas, Teas, and Hybrid Perpetuals had taken over.

In the mid-nineteenth century the modern era of rose hybrids began with the development of the first hybrid tea rose in 1867. About 80% of all roses grown today are modern roses. In more recent times cross-pollinating of the Gallica, Damasks, Portland and Bourbon types with the modern hybrid teas, floribundas and climbers has created the modern English roses. This hybridizing combines the rich fragrances and flower shapes of the old roses with the disease resistance and repeat blooming of modern roses.
Throughout human history, the rose has stirred us with its beauty, filled our senses with its perfume, expressed our love, inspired our literature and art and sparked our imaginations. It is so beloved that in 1986 Congress designated the rose as the national floral emblem of the United States.



Hippolyte - Ancient


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Detail from a painting from Pompeii, 1st C. A.D., showing a rose tied to a cane.



California Wild Rose