In the world of flowers, roses have a language of their own. And while many people know that a red rose means desire, a white rose means fidelity and a yellow rose means friendship, not many people know that in giving someone multiple roses, you are actually ending a layered message. Giving a bouquet of multicolored roses is often the solution when you don’t know what to say, or you want to say it all.
The meaning of roses possibly grew out of the idea that roses went hand in hand with secrecy. The Ancient Egyptians placed wreaths of roses into the tombs of their pharaohs in honor of Horus, the god of silence. Because of this, the rose was symbolic of secrecy to both Egypt and Rome.
Servants and tavern workers would wear a rose tucked behind their ear to indicate that they never told what they saw. It was often used to decorate at parties to remind Romans never to repeat what they saw. By the Victorian era, society frowned upon open displays of affection. But expressions of affection could be conveyed in the veiled meaning of an innocent rose bouquet.
To the Victorians, even the hue of a rose could hold meaning. Although red was universally accepted to mean passion, deep crimson that was almost black would mean deep sadness or mourning. Orange, which resembled the heart of a fire, was often used to express blazing passion. Deep pink could mean gratitude, while pale shades could mean grace or gentleness. Because white roses represented fidelity, purity and holiness, they were often chosen for the bouquet of a woman’s wedding.
Roses that were sent in multicolored bundles also held meaning. A bouquet of yellow roses mixed with white rosebuds mixed the yellow of friendship, with the symbol of girlhood. By sending a bouquet such as this, the sender was telling the receiver that she was just a good friend, and also too young for serious love.
A series of roses in varying shades could indicate the progression of a person’s feelings. If the sender first gifted their object of affection with yellow, then pink, followed by red, the recipient would know that the sender was falling in love. Conversely, a gift of yellow roses from the object of your affections could mean that they’ve experienced a cooling of their regard for you.
Roses were not just a symbol between two people. A garland of roses was once given out as a reward of merit similar to the laurel wreath. Every year, the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby is draped with a garland of red roses.