The perfect rose

Despite crowds not being at Flemington for Cup Week one thing remained certain: the roses still bloomed to perfection. Their beauty and timing arise from long cultivation and a reverence for this queen of flowers. We take a look at the history of this iconic bloom.

Prized and revered for its beauty the world over, the rose, with its delicate velvet petals, has long incited passion. Cleopatra is said to have romantically received Marc Anthony with floors carpeted by rose petals; Napoleon’s wife Josephine grew more than 250 varieties collected by her conquering husband; and, during the Roman Empire, rulers demanded peasants grow roses at the expense of other necessary food crops.

Many believe that the pedestal-like status of the rose, widely lauded as the world’s most popular cut flower, is due to its classic elegance and commanding fragrance. The rose is the absolute epitome of tradition, beautifully classic and often seen as a celebratory, rather than an everyday, flower.

While the cultivation of roses is thought to have begun in Asia around 5000 years ago, fossil evidence – including petrified rose wreaths found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians – indicates it has been in existence for 35 million years. Today, we are spoiled for choice – roses are available in almost every imaginable colour and in more than 30,000 varieties.


According to Greek mythology, it was Chloris, the goddess of flowers, who created the rose after stumbling upon the dead body of a forest nymph. In honour of the nymph’s beauty, Chloris turned her into a rose. With the help of Aphrodite, the goddess of love (who gave beauty), and Dionysus, the god of wine (who added nectar to give a sweet scent), Chloris created the most exquisite flower imaginable.


Since ancient times, the rose has been entwined in history and culture and it is rich with symbolism – including love, beauty, war, politics and religion. In Rome, for instance, a wild rose would be placed on the door of a room where secret ‘men’s business’ took place. Derived from this arcane practice, the phrase ‘sub rosa’ – or under the rose – means to keep a secret.

Today, the queen of flowers boasts the most elaborate family history of any flower species. While the rose grew widely over the northern hemisphere, it was only available in Europe in shades of pink or white. It was not until the late 1700s, when red roses were introduced from China that hybridisation occurred. This brought with it different colours, as well as sizes of bushes, stems, thorns and regularity of bloom. Yellow roses entered the palette around 1900 when French horticulturist Joseph Pernet-Ducher developed Soleil d’Or, the first yellow hybrid. Story has it that, after many years of ardently breeding roses in a search for a hardy yellow variety, one day he fortuitously stumbled across a mutant yellow rose in a field. With this specimen he was able to create the first yellow hybrid. From these introductions, botanical experts tend to divide the rose into two groups: ‘old roses’, cultivated in Europe before 1800, and ‘modern roses’, cultivated in England and France during the 1900s. Typically, old roses (grown in clusters) only bloom once a year in Spring, whereas the modern roses (single stems) are characterised by their repeat-flowering qualities.


Why not brighten up your outfit or your home with the official race day flower?

CORNFLOWER AAMI Victoria Derby Day
YELLOW ROSE Lexus Melbourne Cup Day
PINK ROSE Kennedy Oaks Day
RED ROSE Seppelt Wines Stakes Day