The most popular ornamentals of the family, and among the most esteemed of all cultivated plants, are the true roses. Rosa occurs indigenously in the north temperate zone and in tropical mountain areas, usually as erect or climbing shrubs with five-petaled fragrant flowers. Sometimes the foliage also is fragrant, as in the European sweetbrier, or eglantine. From many of the wild species have been developed the large number of cultivated varieties and hybrids having single or double blossoms that range in color from white and yellow to many shades of pink and red. Since many species are highly variable and hybridize easily, the classification of Rosa is sometimes difficult, and the wild type of some modern forms is not always known.
The rose has been a favorite flower in many lands since prehistoric times. It appears in the earliest art, poetry, and tradition. It has been used in innumerable ways in decoration. In ancient times it was used medically—Pliny lists 32 remedies made of its petals and leaves. Formerly it was eaten in salads and conserves. It was sacred to Aphrodite and was a favorite flower of the Romans, who spread its culture wherever their armies conquered. Among the old species are the cabbage rose and the damask rose, both native to the Caucasus; the latter especially is cultivated for the perfume oil attar of roses. The famous roses of England include the white rose that was the emblem of the house of York and the red rose of the house of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses. The rambler rose, frequently grown on trellises and porches, and the tea and hybrid tea roses are of more recent origin, the result of modern rose culture, which really began when the East India Company's ships brought new everblooming or monthly roses from the Orient.
The rose is the emblem of England and the national flower of the United States. It is the official flower of New York state; the wild rose, of Iowa; the prairie rose, of North Dakota; and the American Beauty, of the District of Columbia. Practical uses of roses, besides their importance as a source of perfume, include a delicate-flavored jelly made from the fruits, called rose hips, of some wild species. Thorny rambling roses, such as the Oriental multiflora rose, are much used as hedge and erosion control plants in agriculture, highway landscaping, and wildlife preserves.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.