Roses In History

Roses in Chinese History

Chinese roses were widely cultivated during the Han Dynasty (141-87 BC). In 1759, after Chinese Roses (Rose chinensis) were introduced to western countries, the so-called modern roses appeared. However, what is the origin of the China Rose? When did the “Chinese Modern Rose” with high-centered and double flower emerge? Was the provenance or form of the Chinese rose already been present 600 years ago? What varieties of roses were shown on the ancient paintings and works?

Roses are depicted on this Chinese dish from the Ch'ing Dynasty (early 1800s)
Roses are depicted on this Chinese dish from the Ch'ing Dynasty (early 1800s)

A careful study of botanical fossils, ancient painted pottery with colors, frescos, paintings, porcelain, and red wood furniture suggests that Chinese cultivated roses with characteristics of modern roses appeared about 1000 years ago. Furthermore, taxonomically distinct roses appear during various historic periods.

Based on new evidence and findings, the development of Chinese roses from ancient civilization to the early phase of the Qing Dynasty (1636 AD) could be divided into five stages: Wild roses (before Han Dynasty, 2000 years ago), cultivation of wild roses (after the Han Dynasty to the early years of Tang Dynasty, 1500 years ago), the Chinese Modern Rose stage (perpetual rose stage) (Tang Dynasty to Song Dynasty, 1000 years ago), selection for varieties (Yuan Dynasty to Ming Dynasty, 600 years ago), and popularity in urban and rural settings (Ming Dynasty to the prophase of Qing Dynasty, 400 years ago).


Citation: Wang, G. (2007). A STUDY ON THE HISTORY OF CHINESE ROSES FROM ANCIENT WORKS AND IMAGES. Acta Hortic. 751, 347-356 DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2007.751.44

War of the Roses

The Lancaster, York, and Tudor roses
The most well known use of roses in English history, was during the so called "war of the roses"

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of the rose fell out of favor. The most remembered use was in the English War of the Roses. Here the White Rose of York was pitted against the Red Rose of Lancaster, and a protracted fight broke out between the two branches of the Plantagenet family. While both sides had their victories during the 1455 to 1487 wars, the “White Rose of Lancaster” was the ultimate victor, with the taking of the throne by Henry Tudor (Henry VI). The two sides were united with the merging of both roses, to create the red and white “Tudor Rose”.

Read more about the Tudor Rose

The Early Roses: History, The Early Roses (pre-1820)

Why pre 1820? Well, this was the date that cross breeding between Asian and European varieties began. After this date, new rose types came into existence – my favorites, the “Old Fashioned” or Antique Roses.

This is not intended as a reference, merely to give you a little background to the history of the rose. The early roses can be divided into two distinct groups. The Oriental roses which includes the Tea rose and the China rose, and the European roses – damasks, alba, gallicas etc.

Oriental Roses

Tea Rose

So named for its scent of fresh tea, the Tea rose originated in the east, but wasn’t introduced to the west until the late 1700s or early 1800s. Although the Tea rose was a repeat flowering plant it had one major drawback – it wasn’t at all hardy.

It was also rather weak growing, and it wouldn’t be until some crosses were made with the European varieties, that a more hardy plant was produced.

China Rose

As the name suggests this rose originated from China. However, I believe it is also native to other eastern countries, such as Korea and Japan. They first made an appearance in Europe in 1790, and efforts were made to establish a breeding programmme with them, especially in France. Their main attraction was the fact that they would bloom continually throughout the growing season, which was in contrast to other known varieties of the time.

European Roses

The drawback to the early European varieties was their lack of a repeat bloom. A few weeks of flowering, and that was it for another year. However, they were hardy and survived the colder European climate well. There was also a limited color range – most of them tended to be some shade of pink, red, or white.


The origins of this rose are unknown -this is the rose so often featured in the work of the Dutch masters.


These descend from the French rose, r.gallica.Some examples include ‘Tuscany’, and ‘Versicolor’. Colors range from blush pink, through to deep maroon.


Possibly derived from R.canina x R.damascena, although this is unknown. Albas typically make large, healthy shrubs with fragrant white or light pink blossoms, usually in few-flowered clusters.


According to tradition, this rose was brought back to Europe by the crusaders in 1254. It was thought that it originated from Damascus, hence the name. Reknown for their fine fragrance, these are the roses used for the perfume industry.

Read More about Damasks