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What Black Roses Mean and 10 Other Facts About Roses

Impress Your Rosarian Friends With Your Knowledge

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Some of my facts about roses will be of interest to a wide audience. For example, as someone who sends and/or receives flowers on special occasions, have you ever wondered, What do black roses mean? Other tidbits of knowledge shared below may be of interest mainly to gardeners, such as what type of Rosa is easiest to grow.

Still other facts presented in this article may fall into the "obscure" category, information of interest mainly to rosarians. What, you don't know what a "rosarian" is? Well, read on, because I discuss that term below, as well as "rosary."

1. Rose Color Meanings: What Do Black Roses Mean?

Picture: Rosa 'Almost Black' is a deep burgundy color.
David Beaulieu

It's only because of the fact that florists are able to alter the appearance of flowers by coloring them in ways that suit the occasion (think about those green carnations on St. Patrick's Day) that we can even credibly ask the question, What do black roses mean? For no such thing exists, naturally, although plant developers have managed to darken the color on some selections.

The flower pictured here is Rosa 'Almost Black.' As you can see, the cultivar name is rather fanciful, as it's really just a dark red color. Click the link above the picture to learn about the meanings of other rose colors, including red.

But granted that they are more fiction than fact, what do black roses mean, in terms of flower symbolism? Well, multiple meanings exist, so if you'll be ordering any to send someone a symbolic message, you'd better make sure you include other clues, lest your message be misunderstood.

Below I offer a few of the possible meanings of black roses. They can symbolize:

  • Death (actual)
  • Death (metaphorical; for example, the death of one's old self as part of a major life change)
  • Revenge
  • Resistance
  • Mourning
  • Mystery
  • Evil (as in the dark side of our psyches)

But some people will send black roses (to like-minded people) for the same reasons that they, say, drive a car or wear clothes of that color. For them, the "meaning" of black roses can come down to:

  • They feel that the color is cool, bold and elegant in its minimalism, or
  • They are admirers of Gothic fashion, etc.

Of course, in answering, What do black roses mean? we have to allow for overlap, considering the diversity of the symbolism. Therefore, if someone has sent you black roses -- someone whom you know to be a lover of that color because it's cool, bold and elegant -- you can't rule out that the sender primarily had the "revenge" meaning in mind when planning the delivery. Thus the injunction above to furnish supplemental clues (unless it's exactly your intention to be mysterious).

You can see pictures of other plants with dark flowers and/or leaves in my photo gallery of black flowers.

2. OK, Black Roses Are Not Real. So What Colors Do Roses Come In?

Picture of a multicolor rose. The "Mardi Gras" multicolor rose is a mix of orange and pink, with a b
David Beaulieu

Flowers in the Rosa genus come in a wide variety of colors. Black and blue are about the only major exceptions, which may only prove that the thorns on roses keep them from being challenged to fight. Seriously, though, you can find one that is suitable for just about any color scheme.

The picture here shows an example that is bi-colored.

For examples of other colors, click the link above the picture to enter my photo gallery.

3. Are Roses Difficult to Prune and to Care For?

Picture: Candy Oh! rose, with its bright red flowers.
David Beaulieu

Roses are often perceived to be finicky plants. But is this fact or fiction?

In his introduction to Success With Roses, Graham Clarke remarks that many varieties "have been bred specifically for resistance against some of the common pests and diseases." He also asserts: "Even pruning bush roses does not need to be as precise now as was once thought." To back up this statement, Clarke points to trials that have demonstrated that "if you go over a rose with a hedge trimmer, you end up with as much flower as if you had spent hours" on elaborate pruning.

With so many varieties, it's hard to generalize: some roses are finicky, some aren't. To handle the ones that are difficult to care for, I offer tips about growing roses in a separate article (to access it, click the link above the photo at left). But the rose in the picture is one of the low-maintenance types, called "Candy Oh! Vivid Red." This is the type of rose you'll want to grow if you're worried that your thumb is not green enough for rose care.

Candy Oh! is a "landscape rose." What does that term mean? Find out in the next entry.

4. What Types of Roses Are There?

Picture of an orange rose. A bicolor flower as the photo shows, this orange rose is an AARS pick.
David Beaulieu

There are different ways to classify roses. First of all, there are official categories that the experts use, such as:

  • Hybrid teas
  • Polyanthas
  • Floribundas
  • Grandifloras

"About Face," the rose in the picture at left, is an example of a grandiflora type.

But then there are also looser classifications. These might suggest, for example, how a particular group of roses is used -- and/or perhaps a set of qualities common amongst a certain group. Thus we have "landscape roses," which are hardy and easy to care for, making them favorites in low-maintenance landscaping. The popular Knock Out® hybrids are another example of the landscape type.

5. What Type of Plant Is a Rose Considered to Be?

Picture of Rose Hips.
David Beaulieu

Rose plants are technically classified as shrubs. But as with many plants, they can, in fact, be categorized in other ways as well, depending upon one's personal interests.

Most notably, some people refer to roses as herb plants, reflecting a variety of culinary and other uses for these shrubs (outside of their use as landscape plants, that is). Many people are aware that rose hips are edible; they are high in vitamin-C. But did you know that rose petals, too are edible? Of course, another use for roses is in the making of perfumes.

Speaking of rose hips (an example of which is pictured at left), this part of the plant can also be quite attractive. They may be rounded, hassock-shaped or (in the case of Rosa moyesii) flagon-shaped.

6. Are All Roses Shrubs? What About the Climbers?

This picture shows a Himalayan musk rose. It's good for growing up arbors.
David Beaulieu

Botanists classify all roses as shrubs, even though some kinds don't look very much like typical shrubs: namely, the climbing kinds. But the latter are not truly climbers, even though we use that term to refer to them. "Rambler" or "rambling" rose is a perhaps a better designation for such a plant.

An example is Paul's Himalayan musk rose, seen in the picture here growing over a garden arbor. This plant begins blooming around the first two weeks of June in my growing zone (5). Rosa multiflora, another rambling type, is an invasive plant that hails from Japan.

7. "Extended" Family: Hawthorns, Etc. Related to Roses

Picture of hawthorn flowers.
David Beaulieu

Here's a fact about roses you can recite that will impress the heck out of regular folks and even gain you a bit of street cred with experts. Roses (Rosa is their genus name) belong to a huge group of plants known as the rose family, or "Rosaceae." So far, no surprise, right? But read on.

According to the American Rose Society (ARS), Rosaceae is subdivided into six subfamilies, one of which is Rosoideae. ARS states that the latter "is the subfamily to which roses belong" and that this subfamily also "includes raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries."

Some of the plants in the other subfamilies are among the most widely recognized in the plant world, including hawthorns (picture) and the following:

8. Besides Looking Pretty, What Function Can Roses Serve in Your Landscaping?

Picture of rose bushes grown so as to hide a chain-link fence.
David Beaulieu

Because they're low-maintenance, landscape roses such as the Candy Oh! Vivid Red (see above) are sometimes planted on bankings to furnish soil erosion control.

Perhaps a more obvious function that roses can serve is as hedge plants. After all, these bushes are legendary for their thorns, and thorns help to discourage intruders. The picture here shows an example of a rose hedge; in this case, the plants are also serving to disguise ugly chain-link fencing.

Rosa rugosa is a salt-tolerant plant, making it useful for seaside plantings.

9. A Rose by Any Other Name?

Picture of Kerria shrub, with its pompom-like yellow blossoms.
David Beaulieu

Shakespeare's famous line about roses calls into question the significance of names. Many of them are fragrant flowers. Would they smell any less sweet, queries the bard, if called by another name? Obviously not. Therefore, don't put too much stock in names: they are of superficial importance.

Here's something else we can hold against names (specifically, the common names of plants): they can be deceiving. For example, some plants have "rose" in their names but aren't the real McCoy. Thus Kerria japonica (picture) is commonly called "Japanese rose" but doesn't belong to the genus, Rosa. It is, however, a member of the rose family, at least. Rose of sharon has even less right to the name, as it belongs to an entirely different plant family: the mallow family.

10. The Rose's Cultural Impact

Yellow rose picture. "Julia Child" is a yellow rose of the floribunda variety.
David Beaulieu

Has any other flower permeated our culture as much as the rose has? I doubt it. The following only scratches the surface but will give you some idea of what I mean:

  • Music: "Ramblin' Rose," "Yellow Rose of Texas", Guns N' Roses
  • Idioms: sub rosa (i.e., confidentially), rose-colored glasses, to come up smelling like roses
  • Literature: The Romance of the Rose
  • History: the Wars of the Roses

Here's a great term to use if you wish to impress your friends with your knowledge: "rosarian." The word means "a cultivator or aficionado of roses."

The following fact may impress even some rosarians. Did you ever wonder if "rosary" has anything to do with roses? Well, it does. Etymology.com states that "rosary" derives from the Latin, rosarium (rose garden) in the "sense of 'series of prayers,'...a figurative use of the word on the notion of a 'garden' of prayers."

11. Combinations, Placement of Roses in Your Landscaping

The roses growing through this fence don't obscure it but do add interest.
David Beaulieu

As with any other plant, precisely where you install a rose in your landscaping goes a long way in determining how happy you'll be with it. This is true in terms of combinations with both hardscape and other softscape features. My picture illustrates an example of the former: white flowers wouldn't work well poking through this fence, but these colors stand out well against the white background.

But with what other plants will you combine your roses? This question can be addressed on more than one level. In her book on companion planting, Roses Love Garlic, Louise Riotte famously claimed that these two plants should be combined, since the latter fights black spot (a disease that troubles Rosa spp.).

More typically, a combination is inspired by a landscape color scheme for which one is striving. Thus, if you love seeing a red and yellow combination, you may wish to grow a plant with yellow flowers next to a red rose. Note, however, some of the other considerations that must go into such a choice:

  • Does the other plant bloom at the same time of year?
  • Is it cold-hardy in your region?
  • Are its sunlight, water and soil requirements the same as for your rose?

A good reference book to use to help you plan such combinations is Tony Lord's Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations. This book puts all the information at your fingertips in each entry, so that you don't have to research all these separate considerations on your own.

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