A Writers Guide to Roses

above: English rose; below: rose hips

above: English rose; below: rose hips

Roses are woody plants within the Rosaceae family. There are over a hundred species and thousands of cultivars. They may be erect shrubs, climbing or trailing plants. The stems often have sharp prickles. Prickles are small, sharp outgrowths of the plant’s stem. They break off easily. Thorns have vascular bundles making them tougher. Though we say “roses have thorns”, technically they have prickles.

Flowers vary greatly in size and shape, but they are usually large and showy. Wild roses have five petals and are usually white to yellow to red. Cultivated varieties typically have many petals and come in a variety of colors from white to yellow to red to lavender. They may be a solid color or striped or a gradient of colors.

The aggregate fruit of the rose is a berry-like structure called a rose hip, also known as rose haw or rose hep. (Many of the domestic cultivars do not produce hips.) Rose hips are typically red, but a some are dark purple or black.


Botanical Name: Rosa

Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: full sun, well-drained soil, temperate regions; native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwestern Africa
Blooms: midspring to fall

Smell: varies but usually strong and sweet, or unscented
Taste: varies but usually strong and sweet


  • Roses have been cultivated for thousands of years. The earliest known cultivation dates back to 500 BCE.
  • The history and lore of the rose is extensive. This post will only cover highlights.


  • Roses were used in herbal and folk medicines in ancient times.
  • There are fossil records that show roses existed in prehistoric times.
  • The colors of roses vary in strength. Red roses are the most binding and astringent. Cabbage roses are considered to be of superior quality.
  • Roses have been used to relieve stomach aches, headaches, coughs, sore throats, colds, infections, and depression as well as stopping bleeding, and soothing chapped skin and abrasions.
  • They’ve also been used as aphrodisiacs.
  • The ancient Greeks wore garlands of roses to cure headaches.
  • Romans used roses for medicine, fragrance, decorations, confetti. They also put them in foods and drinks.
  • Romans created large public rose gardens.
  • An ancient Roman practice was to carve a rose on or above a door or on the ceiling of a room to indicate that anything heard in that room should not be repeated. The phrase sub rosa, or “under the rose”, means to keep a secret.
  • Cleopatra scattered rose petals before Mark Anthony’s feet.
  • Nero let roses fall from the ceiling during feasts and banquets.
  • Rose perfumes are made from rose oil.
  • Rosewater is used for cooking, cosmetics, medicine, and in religious practices.
  • Rose hips are used to make jams, jellies, marmalades, syrups, soups, and teas.
  • Rose hips are high in vitamin C.
  • Rose petals are used in salads, sandwiches, teas, and jam.


  • White roses were created when Aphrodite emerged from the sea and the foam splashed on the ground.
  • Red roses sprouted from the blood of Adonis after a wild boar wounded him.
  • Apollo turned Rhodanthe, the queen of Corinth, into a rosebush and her attendants into its thorns when she insulted his sister Artemis.
  • The rose blushed with shame when God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden.
  • In Christianity, the five-petaled rose symbolizes the five wounds of Christ.
  • In England, if a petal falls as a red rose is cut from the bush, bad luck will follow.
  • White roses worn at weddings will bring happiness and security to the couple.
  • Rosewater worn on clothing protects the wearer from evil.
  • Rose petals added to charms protect against the evil eye.
  • Carrying rose hips brings good luck.
  • Rose hips offerings encourage friendly spirits to take up residence.
  • Roses attract fairies to the garden.
  • Drinking rosebud tea before going to sleep brings on prophetic dreams.
  • Spells and rituals use roses for love divination, psychic powers, luck, protection, and dreamwork.

In the Language of Flowers, it means–

In Hanakotoba, Japanese language of flowers, plants were given codes and passwords.

  • The red rose is 紅薔薇, Benibara, meaning love or in love.
  • The white rose is 薔薇, Bara, meaning innocence, silence, and devotion.
  • The yellow rose is 黄色薔薇, Kiiroibara, meaning jealousy.
  • The pink rose is 桃色薔薇, Momoirobara, meaning trust, happiness, and confidence.

Type of Rose

Bridal – Happy love
Cabbage – Ambassador of love
Campion – You deserve my love
Carolina – Love is dangerous
Christmas – Calm my anxiety
Damask – Brilliant, Freshness
Dog Rose – Pleasure and pain
Eglantine – A wound to heal
Maiden’s Blush – If you love me, you will discover it
Musk – Capricious beauty
Sweetbrier – Sympathy
Tea – I’ll remember, always
Wild (single rose) – Simplicity

Color of Rose

Amaranth – Long standing desire
Black – Death, hatred, farewell, rejuvenation or rebirth
Blue – Mystery, attaining the impossible, love at first sight
Burgundy – Unconscious beauty
Coral – Desire, passion
Lavender – Love at first sight, enchantment
Orange – Fascination
~~Pale Peach – Modesty
Pink – Grace
~~Light pink – Desire, passion, joy of life, youth, and energy
~~Dark pink – Gratitude
Red – True love
~~Cardinal Red – Sublime desire
~~Carmine Red – Deceitful desire
~~Dark red – Mourning
~~Deep red – Bashful shame
~~Fiery Red – Flames of passion
White – silence or innocence, wistfulness, virtue, purity, secrecy, reverence and humility
~~Dried white rose – sorrow
Yellow – Friendship, jealousy, infidelity, apology, a broken heart, undying love, extreme betrayal

Red and white together – United
Red and yellow together – Joy, happiness, and excitement

Thornless – Love at first sight
With a thorn – Danger

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.


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  1. All the way back to the garden of Eden? I'd say the rose has been around a long time.

  2. Hi Holly – they are one of the most beautiful of flowers … and the various types offer so much to humans over the millennia … their scent is gorgeous … and at this time of year, hips are valuable for their warding off the evil colds and flu … cheers Hilary

    1. I love the smell of roses. A lot of the new hybrids don't have a smell though. 🙁

  3. I bet the rose is the most often used flower in literature.

  4. Roses are always so rewarding to grow, even though they do take a lot of work–or maybe because they take a lot of work.

    The folklore and the history that has developed over time is lovely.

  5. Rose hip tea is one of top five teas in my country

    1. Ya know, I've never had rose hip tea. I’ve had rosewater in stuff though–ooo weee is that strong.

  6. My dad grew beautiful roses! So pretty. I've always loved the pink ones best 🙂

  7. Now to go and impress all my friends with my newfound knowledge of roses. I've known a couple of ladies in my life who were named Rosa. One was the wife of an elephant trainer in the circus. For whatever that's worth.

    Arlee Bird
    <a href="http://tossingitout.blogspot.com/">Tossing It Out</a>

  8. Roses are so fascinating. I could sit in a rose garden for hours just enjoying the beautiful colors and smells.

    1. Me too! I love to read in the local rose garden.

  9. Recently I was watching one documentary and saw that roses were introduced in India by the Moguls.
    Interesting post.

  10. I love roses. I can't be in the same room as a bunch of them (darn allergies), but they are so beautiful. I had heard of rose hips, but had no idea their use. Very cool. Thank you for making me smarter today.

    1. Bummer on the allergies. 🙁

  11. Wow! That's a lot of information about roses! I should investigate the dozen I have on my kitchen table. 🙂

  12. I used to have a whole long garden bed full of roses, but they need a lot of care and attention.

  13. Roses and lavender are my favourite plants. Was lovely to read so much about roses. I took a rose cutting from an ancient heirloom rose growing out front of an old boarding house. You won't believe how fast it's growing! I think it's possessed!

    Thanks Holly!

  14. I love roses! I knew some details, but had no idea about the lore and other facts. Thanks for this comprehensive post. Have a good weekend! 🙂

  15. I love the fact roses have so many colors and even combinations of colors. I dunno about the "prickles" though. They always seem strong and well fastened to me. I used to have to cut them off with a knife. The fact Romans wore garlands of them to get rid of headaches made me laugh! Have a lovely weekend!

  16. Holy cow, Batman. I didn't know they were used for allll of this. That's pretty cool.

    My Mamam (gram), used to grow the best roses. She loved them bunches.

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