Everyone recognises a red rose as the symbol of undying love but why red and why just one rose? Should it not be a dozen blooms or is that just a conspiracy propagated by florists every year on St. Valentine’s Day?
This is your complete guide to the fascinating, historic and symbolic meaning of roses by colour and number. Learn the hidden meaning of this iconic flower from the colour, and the significance of the message from the number of stems. Become your own expert and choose just the right number and shade to make the most perfect statement on that very special occasion.
Roses: the language of love
The rose has a long and illustrious history documented in prose, verse and art. As the flower of beauty and love, the rose needs no introduction, harking back to the time that Cleopatra scattered rose petals on the floor of her boudoir to seduce Mark Antony. Even before then to the earliest story, the Virgin Mary is described as ‘the rose without thorns’ and often represented in artwork within an enclosed garden of roses. The five petals of the wild rose are associated with the five joys of Mary.  There are so many more examples throughout the centuries where the significance and representation of this ancient and beautiful flower speaks volumes. This guide will examine the meaning of roses by their colour and number so that you can learn to speak the language of the rose and create your own defining message of love.
The meaning of Roses by colour
All roses were originally white until, as the legend would have it, the ancient Greek Goddess, Aphrodite, pricked her finger upon the thorns on a stem and turned the roses red with her blood. Now, roses are available in many different colours, each with its own meaning and significance.
In simple terms, the red rose means, ‘I love you’, the richness of the red reflecting the depth of feeling behind the gesture of giving, the red rose signifies eternal love and undying passion
The meaning of pink roses is more dilute and a softer interpretation of the bold red, so pink roses mean sweetness, grace and a gentleness which is reflected by the lighter, paler colour. There is a classic elegance to the pink rose and an endless romance which may act as a precursor to the later giving of red roses or simply standalone as something timeless and eternal
The everlasting colour of peace and also purity. White roses are a popular choice at weddings because of their association with chastity, virginity and innocence and they were the original rose of love before the red rose stole the show. White roses were particularly popular in the Victorian era as the flower of courtship and white roses were present in abundance at Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840. There is a serenity and dignity about white roses which also make them a favourite choice for funerals and some people do feel that white roses mean death. They are particularly appropriate for the loss of a close one, representing a departing love. There is also a Christmas rose, a five petal white bloom that flowers at Christmas time and is associated therefore with the nativity and the mother of Christ
Yellow or Gold
With its association with the sun, the meaning of the yellow rose is a soft message of platonic love, support and appreciation. Yellow is a more neutral colour suitable for a number of occasions but it demonstrates warmth, healing and optimism in abundance
The orange rose signifies a heat and intensity which is represented by this fiery colour. An orange rose makes a statement of depth, purpose and intent in almost any situation other than one of true love for which the red rose is reserved. Orange roses convey a meaning of enthusiasm and passion which can be applied as a defining statement to many different occasions
Mixing colours in a bouquet can alter or enhance the message. A wedding arrangement might include white roses and one red stem added by the groom, the red representing undying love and the white the creation of a new union going forward. Rich hues of orange, yellow and dark pink can symbolise a reverence and depth of platonic emotion and appreciation in a stunning combined bouquet full of warm and sincere tones. Pink, yellow and white roses convey an ice-cream sweetness and a fresh, colourful innocence.
Does the number of roses chosen also have a meaning?
A bouquet of roses conveys a sentiment not only from the choice of colour of the blooms but also from the number of stems. A dozen red roses is the iconic gift from one lover to another but what is the meaning of a single red rose or three roses?
A single red rose is the gift of a new lover, a token to be placed on the table at dinner, carefully contrived to convey interest, admiration and intent but representative of a courtship in the early stages; a dozen red roses may be appropriate later on. A single white rose can have many meanings as the white rose is a popular choice at both weddings and also as a funeral flower. A single white rose may be a mark of respect, an emblem of peace or an understatement of deep and dignified reverence depending on the occasion.
A pair of roses may, depending on the colour, indicate a shared love, union or simply friendship. A duo of roses signify a connection and the roses may be different colours. Three red rose blooms are a popular token to represent the phrase, ‘I love you’, one stem for each word, and are also commonly given on the one month anniversary of a fledgling relationship. Half a dozen roses are a real statement of intent and commitment and then a dozen red roses are a total pledge of undying love and commitment.
Other interesting facts about roses
- Not just a beautiful flower, rose petals and rose oil have been highly prized for centuries and are still used today for their therapeutic properties; rose oil has anti-inflammatory and moisturising effects as well as a soothing and calming scent
- The rose bears its own fruit, called the Rose hip which forms after pollination and is ripe and ready to pick towards the end of summer. Rose hip is famed for its high levels of Vitamin C and is used to make tea, syrup, jams and jellies
- The name Rose has an enduring popularity as a choice for newborns. In the last twenty years, Rosie has always featured pretty high in the name stakes but Rose now is in the ascendancy. Flower names were first made popular by the Victorians and then fell out of favour in the post war years of the last century as they were deemed to be old-fashioned, not so any more. A rose by any other name…
- The Wars of the Roses refer to a series of civil conflicts between the two rival factions within the Royal House of Plantagenet, the House of Lancaster and the House of York between 1455 and 1487. Both Houses were identified by their heraldic badges, the white rose of the House of York and the red rose of the House of Lancaster, hence the name of the conflict
So, armed with your new knowledge about colour and number, feel confident that you can select an appropriate and meaningful gift. Follow in the footsteps of all those in the centuries before who have celebrated human emotion through the medium of this most iconic and beautiful of flowers, the rose.