Sweet scents & old, stubborn roots

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


I wrote a whole screed about how much I prefer other plants to roses because I like edible practical plants and then remembered that roses totally have edible fruit, so decided to do a deep dive and see if there were any other ways that my instinctive annoyance at how popular they are was biasing me too far in the other direction.

Fun Facts

  • Roses are edible; rose petals and fruit (rosehips) make a good tea and vitamin-c rich jellies.
  • Blue roses didn't exist until 2004.
  • 90% of Ecuadorian roses are exported to the US; they're its third most important export.
  • Wild roses grow in all kinds of environments, from swamps to deserts.
  • Rose oil, often seen as “attar of roses” or “rose otto”, was probably first made in 10th century Persia.

Cathedral Climb

The oldest known rose bush is a dog rose that grows alongside the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany. It's about ten meters (33ft) tall and at least 700 years old (although it might be closer to 1,000). Legend says the cathedral was built around the bush; unsurprisingly there are many great legends about it. Although the cathedral was bombed to rubble in 1945, the roots survived and it's still blossoming.

Roses White & Red

Roses are common motifs in fairy tales, particularly those written and adapted by Hans Christen Anderson. From a literary perspective, they're common enough to symbolize innocence but fancy enough to symbolize luxury, probably because of how difficult it is to extract rose oil from the petals.

Powerful Scents

Flowers release scent when they are ready to be pollinated, which in roses often translates to a more powerful scent when flowers are half open. For the most part, the smell of roses is pleasant to people because they associate it with pleasant things, like holiday gifts and outdoor walks in relaxing gardens. But except for certain hazardous irritants like ammonia, olfactory preferences are strongly informed by associated experiences and memory.  [Read More]

Timelines in Pink

At 35 million years old, roses are the oldest species of plant to be grown as decoration. They're originally native to China, and pink roses are the most common. Wild pink roses were grown in China's Imperial rose gardens before the Han Dynasty. About a thousand years ago, Chinese roses started to look like modern roses, but it wasn't until about 600 years ago that they started selecting for varieties. Roses became popular in Chinese urban and rural settings around 400 years ago. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my philosophy of gardening.


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