More than 400,000 different species of flowers exist in the world, but when it comes to a favorite, one in particular stands out: the red rose. With over 150 different species and 3,000 members of the rose family in existence — the majority of them some shade of red — this flower is as culturally significant as it is ubiquitous in our lives. Nearly everyone has some type of treasured memory involving a red rose, whether it’s buying them for a first love, receiving them on an anniversary, gifting them to a friend or family member, or treating yourself to one to mark a special day.
But as much as we know about and love red roses, we’re betting a few of these fun facts and unexpected tidbits about the flower might just surprise you.
In ancient Greek mythology, the red rose was said to have been created when the goddess of flowers, Chloris, went walking in the woods and stumbled across the body of a lifeless nymph. Saddened by its death, she transformed the creature’s body into the most beautiful flower imaginable. When another of the gods, Aphrodite, saw her work, she was instantly smitten. The goddess of love is said to have named the flower “rose” in honor of her son Eros, also known as Cupid. Flash forward to today, and we still celebrate Cupid’s holiday — Valentine’s Day — with lush bouquets of vibrant red roses!
In Roman mythology, the origin of the red rose is slightly different but no less dramatic. In this tale, it’s Venus (also the goddess of love) who is rushing to warn her lover Adonis of a murder plot that is being carried out against him. As she runs, she accidentally cuts her ankle on a thorn bush. But, in a beautiful twist, everywhere her blood dripped on the plant a lush rose was said to bloom — creating the red rose bushes we know and love today.
In loving color
Each rose color has its own unique meaning. For example, white roses symbolize purity, and yellow roses equate to friendship. But the color red is a much more complex beast — and every shade of red rose has a slightly different meaning. (One easy rule of thumb: The deeper the color of red, the greater the level of passion the color is said to invoke in the giver.)
Traditionally speaking, light red and pink roses symbolize femininity, grace, and elegance. Go a shade darker to dark pink, and that rose evokes feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Salmon-colored roses, which fall somewhere between red and orange, represent excitement and enthusiasm, and are an ideal symbol for a budding new relationship.
Bright ruby red roses are the true sign of love and usually symbolize passion, desire, and romance. Deeper red roses that fall more into the burgundy color family connote commitment and devotion, while roses with a merlot-like red tint represent beauty. And, finally, deep dark red roses — which sometimes appear almost black in color — symbolize rebirth and new beginnings.
Two more color basics to know:
- Multi-colored roses, such as yellow roses with red tips, symbolize transition or movement — in this case, the yellow of friendship turning into the red of love.
- The combination of two different colors in one bouquet merges the best of what each color represents into one perfect union. So, for example, a bouquet of red and white roses combines the ideas of purity and passion into a type of even more harmonious everlasting love.
While quality obviously matters when giving someone a red rose, so, too, does quantity. The meaning of red roses changes significantly with the number of blooms included in a gift bouquet. Here’s a quick rundown on what those numbers mean, and the symbolism behind the number:
The purest symbol of new love, love at first sight, or a “one and only love,” giving someone a single red rose symbolizes the giving of your heart.
A pair of red roses equals bonded or mutual love and affection — being two of a kind or two halves of the same bunch.
A traditional one-month anniversary gift, three red roses represent the three syllables in the phrase “I love you.”
A sign of wanting to take things to the next level, six red roses are often meant to signify the feeling of “I want to be yours.”
In many sports or ratings systems, 10 is a perfect number — and it is with roses, too. Ten red roses is considered the way to tell someone you feel they are perfect and number one in your heart.
From a dozen donuts to a dozen eggs to 12 months on the calendar, the number “12” has a long history of representing “completion” or “wholeness” — and so it is with love, too. A dozen red roses means your love is complete or whole, and that you couldn’t ask any more from the person whom you are gifting your roses.
What’s in a scent?
Besides a rose’s beautiful appearance, one of its most appealing traits is its incredible scent. And while most people assume that all roses might smell the same, nothing could be further from the truth.
In general, scientists have found that the more scent-producing glands a rose has, the more fragrant it smells. That’s because more glands equates to more “essential oils” in the bloom — in other words, more natural rose smell! When shopping for roses, remember that darker-colored roses (such as the red rose) tend to be more fragrant than lighter-colored ones.
Size matters, too. The more petals a red rose has, the stronger its scent tends to be. And the thicker the petal, the deeper the scent.
As for color, most experts say red and pink roses almost always have the most traditional “rose” smell. In contrast, orange roses tend to smell more like fruit or clove, while yellow and white roses smell most like violets, nasturtiums, or lemon.
A tasty add-in
Hungry for one more rose-flavored tidbit? While all varieties of roses are edible, the ones with the sweetest fragrance tend to have the most flavor. Meaning, if you want to use a few rose petals to add flavor to sugar or butter — or to make your own rose water to then use in rose water ice cream — red roses are the way to go.