Skip to content

Rosa: The Story of the Rose | Book Suggestion

June 15, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Everyone likes roses, despite their thorns. They’re beautiful, there are countless varieties resulting from cross-breeding by humans, they yield valuable oil important in many economies, and they have a wonderful aroma.

Well…they used to smell wonderful until human tinkering managed to eliminate any detectable aroma in many modern varieties. That dis-improvement rivals the creation of the flavorless super* tomato developed to benefit packing and shipping.

[*Super because when dropped it rebounds to 90% of its original height.]

But the rose has a long and glorious history. Anyone who loves them, uses their oil, inhales their aroma, grows them or who only “stops and smells the roses on the way” will enjoy this book.

Rosa: The Story of the Rose
Peter Kukielski with Charles Phillips | Quarto Publishing (Yale University Press | 2021 | 256 pages | 143 color illustrations | $30, as low as $18 elsewhere

From the publisher:

A beautifully illustrated and unique history of the rose—the “queen of flowers”—in art, medicine, cuisine, and more

“The social, cultural and horticultural history of the rose is entertainingly and thoughtfully displayed.”Garden News

“I would recommend Rosa as a gift for anyone who loves flowers, although once purchased you would find it hard to pass on!”—Judith Blacklock, Flora Magazine

Few flowers have quite the same allure or as significant a place in history as the rose. A symbol of love, power, royalty, beauty, and joy, the rose has played many roles, both literal and symbolic, in poetry, art, literature, music, fashion, medicine, perfume, decoration, cuisine, and more.
In this beautifully illustrated guide, award-winning horticulturist Peter E. Kukielski and his coauthor, Charles Phillips, tell the fascinating and many-layered history of this “queen of flowers.” The book explores many stories from the long association of roses with human societies, from their first cultivation—likely in China some five thousand years ago—to their modern genetic cultivars. It shows how roses have been prominent across time and many cultures, including ancient Greece and Rome, Christianity, Islam, and Sufism.
The book, with more than 140 color illustrations, offers a unique look at the essential contributions that roses have made throughout human history.

Peter E. Kukielski is an acclaimed horticulturalist who was curator of the award-winning Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden from 2006 to 2014. He lives in Portland, ME. Charles Phillips is a writer and editor with more than 30 years’ experience. He lives in London, England.

A few highlights from Kulielski’s article in Natural History, May 2021

  • Roses are thought to have first appeared in central Asia.
  • Rose fossils found in South Park, Colorado dating back 35 million years, resembling most closely Rosa nutkana and R. palustris.
  • First mentioned in history about 3000 BCE; Confucius wrote of them ~500 BCE
  • Widely cultivated in China ~210 CE
  • Faristan, Iran claims to be birthplace of cultivated roses
  • Faristan exported rose water all over the world, including 30,000 bottles annually to the caliph of Bagdad
  • For over 5,000 years China & Persia were only places where naturally fragrant rose varieties grew.
  • Single-layered Iranian rose growing in Qasmar has such exquisite perfume that it is grown solely for its oil
  • Mesopotamian tablets & jugs reveal perfume extraction ~3500 BCE
  • Indian god Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi created by god Brahma from 108 large and 1008 small rose petals.
  • In Gujarat India ~1300 CE a Persian traveler noted “the people were very wealthy and happy and grew no less than 70 kinds of roses.”
  • Egyptian wall paintings ~2500 BCE show roses associated with goddess Isis
  • Romans used roses in: food, cosmetics, ointments, oils, medicines, cushions, paintings, scented water, wearable wreaths, smothering guests in roses, and burials.
  • President Reagan in Nov. 1986 designated the rose the U.S. national floral emblem.

An appreciation of the book by website CommonWeeder.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: