Why Roses are Red: An Exploration of Color in Nature

Roses (Rosa spp.) are highly prized for their breathtaking flowers that come in a gorgeous array of colors. While pink and yellow roses are beautiful, red roses may be the most popular color of them all. But where does this rich red color come from? In this article, I’ll explore why roses are red.

Why Roses are Red_ An Exploration of Color in Nature

Why Roses Are Red According to Science

Roses are red because of the presence of chemical pigments called anthocyanins within the petals. These pigments are part of a wider group of chemicals called flavonoids. Anthocyanins and other flavonoids are present in all flowers.

Anthocyanins create particular colors by absorbing and reflecting varying amounts of sunlight. As such, anthocyanins are responsible for the color of all roses, whether the flowers are red, pink, yellow, or white.

The exact color of the petals is determined by which wavelengths of light the particular anthocyanins in the petals interact with. If the anthocyanins within the petals absorb and reflect red light, the color of the flowers will be red.

The behavior of the anthocyanins within a rose’s petals can also be influenced by various environmental factors. This can alter the color of the flowers. The two main factors that influence the behavior of anthocyanins are sunlight and fertilizer.

When roses are exposed to larger amounts of sunlight, the anthocyanins within their petals produce flowers with darker, richer colors. However, the anthocyanins in roses that receive less sunlight will produce lighter, paler flowers.

Anthocyanins in roses that are fertilized more frequently will develop brighter, richer colors. By contrast, anthocyanins in roses that receive less or no fertilizer will produce paler blooms.

The Mythological Origin of Red Roses

The Mythological Origin of Red Roses

Before science explained why roses are red, the ancient Greeks came up with their own theory. According to Greek mythology, it was the goddess Aphrodite who made roses red.

Aphrodite fell in love with a mortal named Adonis. However, during a hunting trip, Adonis was fatally wounded by a wild boar. A distraught Aphrodite took the dying Adonis in her arms and wept for her lover.

As Aphrodite’s tears mixed with Adonis’s blood and touched the ground, red roses bloomed around them. However, in some versions of the myth, Aphrodite’s tears and Adonis’s blood cause anemones to bloom.

What Do Red Roses Symbolize?

Red roses are some of the most popular and symbolic types of roses. They are a universal symbol of love, affection, and desire. Red roses can also represent passion, romance, and beauty. Because of their strong association with love and affection, red roses are usually linked to Valentine’s Day.

Best Varieties of Red Roses

Best Varieties of Red Roses

Even among roses, red roses really stand out. Red roses come in various rich shades such as crimson, scarlet, and burgundy. Here are some of the best varieties of red roses:

  • Rosa ‘Chrysler Imperial’ – This gorgeous hybrid tea rose produces large crimson blooms in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. The impressive double flowers emit a strong citrus-like fragrance.
  • Rosa ‘Crimson Shower’ – A beautiful rambling rose with clusters of crimson-red flowers. This cultivar climbs up to 15 feet tall and thrives in Zones 5 to 9.
  • Rosa ‘Deep Secret’ – This hybrid tea rose has velvety red double flowers that emerge from distinctive black buds. These fragrant roses perform well in Zones 5 to 9.
  • Rosa ‘Mister Lincoln’ – An intoxicating hybrid tea rose with crimson double flowers and a sweet, strong fragrance. ‘Mister Lincoln’ thrives in Zones 5 to 11.
  • Rosa ‘Red Knock Out’ – This shrub rose has stunning single or semi-double red flowers and grows best in Zones 5 to 11.

About Rose Flowers

About Rose Flowers

Roses are deciduous perennials from the Rosa genus of the rose family (Rosaceae). Most roses grow either as shrubs or climbing vines. The Rosa genus contains approximately 300 species, some of which have been used to create thousands of cultivars.

With so many species and cultivars, it’s no surprise that roses are divided into groups. There are three main groups of roses; modern roses, old garden roses, and wild or species roses. Roses are further subdivided into smaller groups depending on their exact characteristics. Some of these groups include climbing roses, Floribunda roses, Polyantha roses, and rambling roses.

Roses have single, double, or semi-double flowers with five petals. Some roses produce lovely heady or musky scents. Rose flowers come in various colors, including shades of lavender, pink, purple, orange, red, yellow, and white.

Rose shrubs also have alternate, pinnate leaves consisting of up to 13 elliptical or oval-shaped leaflets with toothed margins. Most roses have woody stems covered in curved prickles that are commonly referred to as thorns. After they finish flowering, roses produce berry-like fruits known as rose hips.

Why Roses Are Red FAQs:

Are Roses Naturally Red?

Along with pink, white, and yellow, red is one of the natural colors for roses. Many species of wild roses have gorgeous red flowers. Many of these species have been used to breed new red rose cultivars.

Why Are Roses Red According to Greek Mythology?

According to Greek mythology, roses are red because Aphrodite’s tears mixed with the blood of her dead lover Adonis. Whenever the liquid hit the ground, red roses would spring up.

Why Are Rose Petals Red?

Rose petals are red due to the presence of chemical pigments called anthocyanins. These anthocyanins reflect and absorb wavelengths of red light, creating red flowers.


Wrapping Up

Roses are red because chemical pigments in their petals called anthocyanins absorb and reflect red light. Red roses are extremely popular and symbolize love, affection, romance, and desire.

For more, see our in-depth guide on whether you’ll see roses bloom in their first year, common causes of yellowing rose leaves, how to grow roses from seed, the best native North American roses, the best types of edible roses, rose plant deer resistance, how to plant climbing roses, when to fertilize roses, and whether roses are toxic to dogs and cats.


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