We are all familiar with Gertrude Stein’s “a rose is a rose is a rose.” One of the most popular flowers, roses appear in a rainbow of colors, although there has never been a true blue rose. Roses have been described as “an index of civilization.” Author Catherine Horwood follows the history of roses over many centuries in multiple areas of the world, using interesting stories not usually found in other books. It is not known how long roses have been sharing their beauty and scents around the world, but fossils of primitive roses dating back 25–30 million years support the conclusion that they have been longtime inhabitants. In the early years of the first millennium, Arabs grew roses to produce rose water that was used for cooking, ritual cleansing before prayer, and building purification. In those times, the rose was important in Islam, but condemned or rejected in Judaism and Christianity. By the eighteenth century, roses were being cultivated.

A sampling of items the reader will find in this book includes the following:

  • the discovery of remnants of a rose wreath in a 1700-year-old Egyptian coffin

  • how Napoleon blocked the plan of Empress Josephine (known as Rose by her family) to collect every rose variety

  • the meanings attributed to roses of specific colors

  • the in-depth story of rose water, oils, and perfumes

  • the many stories of the connections between roses and royalty

  • the meanings and uses of “rose rents”

  • why all the members of Germany’s “White Rose” movement were executed

  • the contributions of the Wiltshire “wizard” to the hybridization of tea roses

  • the chemicals that contribute to the fragrance of roses

  • how national hostilities affected the journeys of roses as they moved from one country to another

  • a description of ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s custom costume of rose petals

  • the U.S. presidents who grew roses

  • the health benefits of the rose

The rose is symbolic of many things, including its popular use as a symbol of love and romance. Rose is even an anagram of Eros, the Greek god of love. It is also the symbol of the Rosicrucian Order, a symbol of prayer in the Catholic rosary, and a symbol of power in the Wars of the Roses. The red and white Tudor Rose is the national flower of England and its image was embroidered on the coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth II. The rose is also honored by the Rose Bowl Stadium and the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California, as well as the White House Rose Garden in Washington, D.C.

A flower as beautiful as the rose is a natural subject and symbol in the arts. Roses are mentioned in many literary works, from those of Persia’s Omar Khayyám to England’s William Shakespeare, who informed us that a rose “by any other name would smell as sweet.” Ancient Greek poet Anacreon described the rose as “the most beautiful of flowers, the joy of gods, the pillow of Cupid, the garment of Aphrodite.” Dante Alighieri’s “mystic rose” is part of his Divine Comedy. Moonlight and Roses and Ramblin’ Rose are two of the more than 4000 love songs whose titles contain the word “rose.” Despite the song, The Yellow Rose of Texas is not the state’s official flower. A silver rose is featured in Richard Strauss’s opera Die Rosenkavalier. The ballet Le Spectre de la rose is about a young girl whose dreams were brought to life by the spirit of the rose. Roses are found in numerous paintings, such as Botticelli’s elegant The Birth of Venus, in which Venus is shown rising through a cloud of roses. Georgia O’Keefe’s technique of painting close-up views of rose blossoms was mirrored by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s black-and-white close-ups of rose blooms. Besides countless works of art, roses also appear in family coats of arms, coins, stained glass windows, ship names, clothing embroidery, army berets, vases, jewelry, mosaics, and book covers, including this one.

Rose, packed with fascinating information, is a deeply researched, attractively written, and lavishly illustrated book that should appeal to booklovers interested in flowers, horticulture, and science history. It is appropriate for high school, college, and adult readers. In addition to an index, Rose includes two appendices (“The Rose Family” and “Recipes”), a timeline, a detailed list of references, a bibliography, and a list of associations and websites. When you read this book, don’t forget to “stop and smell the roses.”

Richard Lord
Retired Biology Teacher
Presque Isle High School
Presque Isle, ME 04769