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Roses in Our Daily Lives

by Dr. Tommy Cairns, ARS past president

This is a 2016 Award of Merit article.

"The Rose chronicles our daily lives providing a rich tapestry of memories, experiences, camaraderie, liberty and enjoyment. Privileged by this grace, the Rose grants great cheer in happy times and, on a few occasions, much needed sympathy. "

(ABOVE: Ronald Reagan signing resolution that rose is our National Floral Emblem)

There is no better flower to represent the true essence and pioneering spirit of the American people! Its prominent diversity of form, color and configuration mirrors the distinct populations, cultures and history of its people. No other flower has played such a major role in our daily lives either through legend, medicine, music, leaders, literature capturing our affection, celebrations or often, sadness.

The Rose In Legend

Legends about the Rose are almost as old as civilization itself. These legends attempt to explain who, when, where or why certain roses came into being, or connect roses to some historical event or person. While there may be truth in many of the legends, they do demonstrate the preoccupation that men and women through the ages have had with roses.

Perhaps the oldest of legends is that roses grew in the Garden of Eden and in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Assuming Eden was located somewhere in Asia or the Middle East, then the probability that roses grew there is extremely high, for roses have been on Earth long before man. Estimates can reach to 35 million years ago! Historians have placed the Hanging Gardens as existing from as early as 1200 B.C. until about 562 B.C.

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite had favored the Rose when she used rose oils to embalm the body of the Trojan hero Hector, slain by Achilles. The oldest legends date back to the Greeks, who first depicted the rose as masculine. After Sappho dubbed the Rose "The Queen of Flowers" in 600 B.C., roses have, with very few exceptions, been depicted as feminine.

From the time of Christ, two legends are concerned with the origin of the Rose. One says that roses appeared on a tree from which Judas hanged himself as a sign that the blood of Christ has been shed for sinners. Another links the creation of the rose to the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the crucifixion, saying that roses formed from the blood that flowed around the crown.

The United States also has its share of rose legends. The Cherokee Indians regarded the rose as a sign of friendship, beauty, love and healing. Women who wore the "Cherokee Rose" (officially named 'Rosa laevigata) on their wedding day were promised years of happiness and security.

These Indians say that the Cherokee Rose was transformed from a maiden named Nunnshi to save her from enemy attacks. When the plant first bloomed, Nunnshi asked that she be given protection from people who might trample her, and so this white rose became densely covered with thorns. The Grant Rose, a blood red rose that has an unpleasant odor, is said to have grown from the spot where Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and her baby were massacred by Seminole Indians during the 1835-36 uprising.

The Rose in Medicine

Rosa gallica officinalis (the Apothecary's Rose) was once the main rose grown for use in medicines. During the 13th century this rose was also grown for the perfume industry, for dried roses and for potpourri. By the time of Napoleon, half the shops on the main street in Provins, a town near Paris, were apothecary shops. From Provins were shipped large numbers of medicines for in digestion, debility, sore throats, skin rashes and eye problems. Women believed that rose petals rubbed on the skin eliminate wrinkles and preserve youth!

The early 17th century author Culpepper suggested that every part of the rose could be used to cure some ailment. An extraction of red roses and wine was surprisingly recommended for a headache, although it seems more likely to cause one! Roses continue to be used in cosmetics, soaps and skin creams. The original recipe for cold cream, which dates back to about 1000 B.C. calls for white wax, rose oil and rose water. (ABOVE LEFT: Rosa gallica officinalis. Photo credit Bob Martin)

The Rose in Music

A rose society in New York has in its show each June a class for roses that have the same names as songs. Many roses such as 'Bing Crosby', 'Dolly Parton', 'Minnie Pearl', 'Helen Traubel', 'Maria Callas', "Ink Spots', 'Barbra Streisand' and 'Patsy Cline' are named for famous singers and musicians.There's even a shrub rose called 'Lyric', another called 'Music Maker', and hybrid teas called 'Maestro' and 'Nocturne'. One can find miniatures called 'Mood Music', 'Summer Symphony' and 'Strange Music' as well as a hybrid musk called 'Mozart' and a floribunda named 'Rumba'.

Richard Strauss, in his opera "Der Rosenkavalier," which debuted in 1911, depicts Octavian bringing a rose to Sophie on behalf of his cousin who is to marry Sophie the following day. Octavian and Sophie fall in love when he presents her with the silver rose sweetly scented with attar of roses. She says to her new found love, "It is like a greeting from Heaven unbearly sweet ... it tugs my heart strings. "

The Rose among Leaders

George Washington grew roses at his home at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson used roses extensively at Monticello. The history of the rose at the White House began in 1800, when John Adams prudently combined a rose garden and a vegetable garden. In 1913 Mrs. Woodrow Wilson redesigned the area outside the president's office into a formal rose garden.

Today, many White House functions take place in the Rose Garden, which was refurbished by Jacqueline Kennedy. After Franklin Roosevelt died, members of Congress wore white roses in mourning. Few who saw it on television will forget the sight of the bouquet of red roses that lay in the blood-soaked limousine on that tragic day, Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. A white rose was named in his honor, as also has been done for other presidents including 'Abraham Lincoln', 'Herbert Hoover'; and first ladies 'Lady Bird Johnson', 'Rosalynn Carter', 'Pat Nixon', 'First Lady Nancy Reagan' and 'Barbara Bush'.

The Rose in Literature

Writing in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Shakespeare mentions roses more than 60 times. He describes Hamlet as "the rose of the fair state," and in Richard II as "that sweet lovely rose." In Julius Caesar, Anthony refers to Caesar as wearing "the rose of youth upon him." Using the rose in a metaphor, he writes "roses have thorns ... all men make faults."

Famous lines from his 14th sonnet are:

The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem ,

For that sweet odor which doth in it live

Shakespeare's best known lines regarding the rose from "Romeo & Juliet" read:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

The Scottish poet of the 18th century, Robert Burns, is famous for his poem

0 my luve is like a red, red rose

That's newly sprung in June.

0 my luve is like the melodie

That's sweetly played in tune.

Another 19th century poet worthy of note, John B. O'Reilly, wrote a delightful poem:

The red rose whispers of passion

And the white rose breathes of love.

0 the red rose is a falcon

And the white rose is a dove.

"A rose is a rose is a rose" is the line made famous by 20th century Gertrude Stein in her poem "Sacred Emily." The poet had the phrase written in a circle so it would be never ending, and so it became her symbol. Her message was a metaphor for a plea to return to reality using the rose that had - come to mean many things such as beauty, romance and chivalry, but never lost its pure beauty as a flower.

The Rose for New Citizens

Perhaps the most touching story regarding the rose in our daily lives is one from an account of a naturalization ceremony that took place in Miami, FL, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century. It reads:

".... two hundred and ninety people were to become new U.S. citizens on that day ... There was a buzz of expectancy and anticipation, a feeling of awe and reverence, and there was the mingled odor of people and ... roses. For the first time, 500 fragrant, long-stemmed red roses were found in a Federal courtroom; for the first time a low bowl of roses was prominent on the judge's bench. On that occasion, 39 nationalities were represented; the ages ranged from 76 to five-year-old twin colleens who captured the hearts of everyone - Ann Marie and, by happy and symbolic coincidence, Rose Marie.

"As the naturalization ceremonies progressed, each came to the judge's bench; they came in rough and humble tweed, in heavy shoes, in coarse but clean cotton and in silk dresses and white gloves. With solemnity, and some fear they took their oath; with trembling work-roughened hands they accepted their small flag and a "Welcome to Citizenship" booklet; they fumbled with their treasures and eagerly reached for the red rose.

"Some stared at it; some smelled it; a woman crushed it to her lips and kissed it; a man stuck it and his flag through his button hole - the long stem reached down to his belt. Each smiled and the fear was gone. But a few stood alone; a woman wept as she caressed the rose. When ... asked ... why she cried, she said, 'Always this will remind me beauty is the same in every country. She looked up from the rose and added, 'And so is love!' One man wept, too. He wept for his wife who had died before she could become a citizen. He said he would take his rose to her grave. I can still see the man who reverently tore off a rose petal and with solemnity put it in his mouth and ate it, then folded the rose in the cupped palms of his hands as if he had taken communion and now was praying.

"This rose presentation was no idle gesture, but one fraught with deep meaning and lasting effect; its significance and symbolism was summed up in these lines written especially for the occasion by Marjorie Yorba, and presented with each rose:

To give you only words, new citizen, is to deny the part of you

that we most need and you most want to give.

So please accept this rose.

Within its variable beauty ties the strength

derived from individual differences

and from its fragrance, a purity of purpose

born of the right to be what it is

"It is gratifying to know that since this first unusual naturalization ceremony each new citizen in Miami still receives his red rose." (Gordon, Immortal Roses, p. 154)


The rose has clearly pervaded our daily lives throughout history bringing the best that civilization ha offer the human race in comforting the mind and the body. At every sta life the rose seems to share in our celebrations as well as our sadness.

The rose in our daily lives is a there... from birth... to marriage.. death. Its presence is often understated and rarely overstated, but it is everywhere chronicling our lives from the height enjoyment and celebration to the de of despair and agony. While the great cataclysmic tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 the darkest in American history, we were all greatly comforted by the expression people to give roses to amplify their and sympathy. Roses are a gift from God and to share them is wonderful. In darkest hours, roses were not center stage, but rather they quietly expressed the beauty of nature, always there, ways present, always comforting, a reassuring, always a symbol of American life and liberty... our National Floral Emblem.

Revere the rose in your hearts,

love in everything you do and passion in your endeavors.

For the rose will be with you side by side,

a true partner in your journey throughout life!


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