A red rose is a pretty universal symbol of love and passion. So universal, in fact, that the price of red roses can increase by 200% around Valentine’s Day in some regions! However, all colors of roses have their own unique symbolic meanings—not just red roses. The symbolic meanings of other rose colors just aren’t quite as well-known.
In this article, we’ll briefly go over the concept of rose color symbolism. Then we’ll break down the meaning of different rose colors (including favorites like yellow, pink, and white roses) and provide appropriate occasions for each color. We’ll also discuss the symbolism of different numbers of roses and provide some insight into rose cost. All this will help you to choose the most appropriate roses for any given occasion!
Rose Color Meanings: A Brief Overview
While the concept of assigning symbolic meaning to flowers has existed since ancient times, the popularity of communicating through the “language of flowers” peaked in the Western world during the Victorian era. Both men and women consulted “flower dictionaries” to choose and interpret the appropriate flowers to send, wear, and display.
Flowers were given meaning based on both their species and their color. So while the rose in general is a symbol of love, different rose colors provided different shades of meaning (or even, in some cases, a completely different meaning) to this base meaning of rose = love.
The mania for flower dictionaries may have passed, but a fascination with flower symbolism—particularly with roses, one of the most popular flowers—has persisted. If you’d like to give a bouquet of roses that’s especially thoughtful and meaningful, consider the symbolism of the colors you select. Read on for a comprehensive guide to what different colored roses mean and what occasions they are most appropriate for.
The Meaning of Rose Colors: 4 Most Popular Colors
While we will discuss all rose color meanings in this article, we’ll start with the symbolism of the most popular rose colors: red, white, yellow, and pink.
Red Rose Meaning
Red is one of the most common and popular rose colors. The red rose is a symbol of beauty, passion, desire, and romantic love. The red rose was originally associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Myth holds that when her lover, Adonis, was wounded, she pricked her foot on the thorns of a white rose in her haste to run to him. Her blood stained the roses red, turning the red rose into a symbol of incredible passion and romantic devotion. Legend also has it that Cleopatra seduced Mark Antony in a room fully covered in red rose petals.
A dozen red roses boldly declares, “I love you,” while a single red rose communicates devotion and loyalty.
Beyond their more passionate connotation, red roses are often used outside of romantic contexts to convey congratulations or gratitude.
Red Roses Occasions
Red roses are very popular flowers for Valentine’s day. However, because of the increased demand, rose prices go up dramatically around this time, and you may be getting lower-quality roses. Additionally, they are somewhat of a Valentine’s day cliche, which may come across as fairly unoriginal. So unless you know the recipient has their heart set on red roses, consider another flower for this holiday and save red roses for another (romantic) time. For example, anniversaries or birthdays with a significant other.
Red roses also often appear in bridal bouquets because of their connotation of a love that is both everlasting and passionate.
Finally, you might give red roses for non-romantic reasons. They are popular flowers for giving to someone after a performance; you often see bouquets of red roses or single flowers thrown onstage after ballet or opera performances. So you might give red roses to someone who has just done a stage performance of some kind or completed a big accomplishment like a graduation or major work project. Red roses can also be deployed to thank someone who has done something meaningful for you.
Context is everything—think about how your gesture of red roses will be interpreted under the circumstances!
White Rose Meaning
White roses have a variety of symbolic associations. In Greek myth, Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea. Greek poet Anacreon wrote that the sea foam that dripped from her body after she emerged from the ocean turned into white roses. In the Christian tradition, the white rose is associated with the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps because of its association with these two fairly different figures, white rose symbolism is somewhat broad. Possibly because of its connection to the Virgin Mary, it bears a meaning of innocence, chastity, and purity. It’s also associated with spirituality, reverence, and new beginnings.
In Victorian tradition, the deeper the rose color, the deeper the passion—so a white rose was most appropriate for a young girl or woman who has not yet felt a deep and passionate love. Somewhat contradictorily, the white rose also symbolizes a soul-deep love and can represent marriage.
White Roses Occasions
Because of its associations with purity, spirituality, and new beginnings, the white rose is an appropriate funeral flower.
However, it’s also a common wedding flower due to its association with marriage and deep love. Cream roses are considered particularly bridal.
White roses are also appropriate for religious occasions like baptisms and confirmations.
Yellow Rose Meaning
The yellow rose has experienced a significant shift in meaning over time. In the Victorian era, the yellow rose signified jealousy and accused the recipient of infidelity. Not exactly a very happy message!
However, in the present day, the yellow rose most commonly means friendship—and specifically platonic friendship. Sending yellow roses to someone you may have romantic interest in, then, may not be the best move as it could signal that you are only interested in friendship with that person.
For someone you are friends with, the yellow rose sends a message of cheer, joy, caring, and platonic affection.
Yellow Roses Occasions
The yellow rose is an excellent congratulatory rose for a happy occasion. A new baby or an engagement are great reasons to send someone yellow roses. You might also send them to thank a friend for their support or help.
Lastly, yellow roses are a good choice for someone who needs a pick-me-up—perhaps in a “Get Well Soon” bouquet.
Pink Rose Meaning
Pink roses have a pretty broad range of symbolic associations. In general, pink roses symbolize admiration, gentleness, dignity, elegance, innocence, and happiness.
Different shades of pink can convey different shades of meaning. Paler pink roses signify grace and sweetness. Deeper pink roses convey gratitude.
Pink Roses Occasions
Pink roses are very versatile. They can convey either a romantic or platonic message. Pale pink roses are a good choice for the beginning of a romance, when red roses may come off somewhat strongly. You can also send pink roses to a friend to congratulate or cheer them.
Deeper pink roses are especially well-suited as a thank you gift. Pink roses are also appropriate for a girl or young woman, especially to convey congratulations or to commemorate a milestone.
Rose Color Meaning: 7 More Unusual Colors
In this next section, we’ll go over the rose color meanings of some of the more unusual rose colors.
Orange Rose Meaning
Fiery orange roses send a strong message of fascination, passion, enthusiasm, attraction, and desire. Coral roses in particular signify desire.
Orange Roses Occasions
Orange roses convey a meaning that is primarily romantic in nature. Thus, they are best for romantic occasions. They can be a slightly unusual but appropriate choice for Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. They might also make a striking wedding flower in the right color scheme!
Peach Rose Meaning
Peach roses communicate sincerity and gratitude. They can also mark the closing of a deal or agreement. They have an alternative meaning of sympathy. Pale peach roses mean modesty.
Peach Roses Occasions
Peach roses are a very appropriate thank-you gift.
Additionally, they are a good choice for a sympathy bouquet to someone who has just lost a loved one.
With their meaning of modesty, pale peach roses can also make a very pretty component of a bouquet that communicates admiration—perhaps a bouquet of peach and pink roses together. This would also make a very pretty wedding flower combination and color palette.
Burgundy Rose Meaning
Burgundy roses have a very specific connotation of unconscious beauty. In the Victorian era, deeper rose colors signified deeper passion. Per this schema, burgundy roses signify a very deep passion, even beyond that of red roses.
Burgundy Roses Occasions
Burgundy roses are very romantic. They can make a striking choice for Valentine’s day or other romantic occasions and add depth to a bouquet with red and/or pink roses. They would also make a lush and beautiful wedding flower.
Purple Rose Meaning
Purple roses are very special and intriguing and have deep symbolic meaning. Purple roses symbolize enchantment and the mystical. Pale purple or lavender-colored roses send a message of “love at first sight.” Deeper purple roses convey majesty and royalty, adoration, and fascination.
Purple Roses Occasions
Purple roses are also very romantic and best for romantic occasions. Purple roses are an especially good choice for someone with a spiritual or mystical side. They also look beautiful in combination with red, pink, or burgundy roses.
Green Rose Meaning
Green roses symbolize peace, spiritual rejuvenation, calm, and fertility. It’s a soothing color that connotes close ties to the natural world. The pale green rose does occur in nature, although green roses that you buy from a florist may be dyed (especially if they are a bright St. Patrick’s-day green!)
Green Roses Occasions
Green roses are appropriate for any spiritual occasion, like a baptism or confirmation.
As a symbol of peace, they also make an appropriate funeral flower.
Because they are symbol of fertility, they would also be a good choice for new parents. Pale green and white roses together would make an especially striking and appropriate combination for such an event.
Blue Rose Meaning
True blue roses are not found in nature. Natural roses that are considered “blue” are actually a blue-toned purple. However, blue roses can also be obtained by dying white roses. Because they can’t be obtained naturally, blue roses symbolize the unattainable and the mysterious.
Blue Roses Occasions
Blue roses are not associated with many occasions, likely because they aren’t found in nature and must be artificially colors. However, with their enigmatic message, they could be used to send a message from a secret admirer.
Black Rose Meaning
Black roses are another color that is not found in nature. Natural roses that are called “black” are actually a very dark red or purple color. True black roses can only be obtained through dyeing. Black roses symbolize death, rebirth, and goodbye.
Black Roses Meaning
Black roses may be an appropriate funeral flower. However, they can come across as very gothic and morbid, so they may be somewhat of a risky choice unless you were close to the deceased and are confident they (and their surviving family members) would appreciate black roses.
The Number of Roses - Meaning
The number of roses gifted can also have symbolic meaning. However, the message is almost always some variant of “I love you.” Here’s a chart with the breakdown:
Number of Roses
Devotion, love at first sight
“I love you”
“I want to be yours,” infatuation
You are perfect
Twelve (one dozen)
A secret admirer, or forever friendship
“I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me”
I’m committed to you
Twenty-four (two dozen)
“I’m yours,” “I’m thinking of you every hour of the day”
Thirty-six (three dozen)
Remembering romantic moments
Will you marry me?
I love you every day (of the year)
Eternal and infinite love (and an infinite bank account, probably!)
Thus, almost all numbers of roses mean some version of “I love you,” “I’m devoted to you,” etc. Number, then, is overall less significant than color.
Rose Color and Cost
While color can (and does) play into the price of roses, it’s far from the most important factor. Rose cost is also affected by quality of the rose, time of year, and the labor involved in crafting the bouquet. Only after all this has been accounted for does color really come into play.
It goes without saying that the higher the rose is in quality, the more expensive it will be per stem. Long-stemmed roses with hearty, full blooms cost more than their shorter-stemmed, less lush counterparts. The type of rose is another factor here. For example, garden roses, which are quite popular for weddings, tend to be far more expensive than the more typical rose varieties you would find in the grocery store.
Time of Year
Time of year plays into the level of demand for roses, which plays into price. Roses are most expensive around Valentine’s day, Mother’s day, and June due to increased demand. June is a high-demand time because many weddings take place in June, and roses are a popular wedding flower. Graduations could also contribute to increased demand at this time.
The amount of labor that goes into maintaining and arranging your roses is also reflected in the price. Bulk retailers who can’t give you much personalization and may not take as much care with the transport and storage of their blooms won’t charge as much for a dozen roses! By contrast, a specialty florist that does careful custom arrangements will charge you more.
Color comes into play primarily because it’s harder to find cheap roses in unusual colors. Red, white, and pink roses will almost always be easy to find at from bulk retailers like Costco or even at grocery stores for a fairly cheap price. But because there’s less demand for purple or peach roses, you are more likely to have to go through a florist, which will mean you’ll almost certainly need to pay more.
Any artificially colored roses (so, a bright blue or green) will also cost more, because of the labor associated with coloring the roses.
Rose Symbolism: Final Takeaways
Here are some key takeaways for each of the rose colors:
- Red: Passion, love, desire. For romantic occasions.
- White: Innocence, purity, spirituality, new beginnings. Best for spiritual events, weddings, and funerals.
- Yellow: Platonic friendship. To cheer or congratulate a close friend.
- Pink: Pink roses primarily mean admiration, elegance, innocence, and gratitude. Very versatile; can be used for almost any occasion where flowers are appropriate.
- Orange: Desire, fascination, passion. For romantic occasions.
- Peach: Sincerity, gratitude, sympathy. Send as a thank-you or to someone in mourning.
- Burgundy: Unconscious beauty. For romantic occasions.
- Purple: enchantment, love at first sight (lilac), royalty and admiration (deeper purple). For romantic occasions.
- Blue (not found in nature): The unattainable and mysterious. Perhaps for a secret admirer.
- Black (not found in nature): Death and rebirth. Perhaps for a funeral.
Almost every rose number sends some message of love and devotion, so there is a lot more variation and significance in rose color symbolism.
Rose cost is primarily driven by the quality of the roses, the time of year, and the labor involved in the arrangement. However, you will have a harder time finding cheaper arrangements for less common rose colors like purple, orange, and green. Additionally, any artificially colored roses will cost you more.
A new series of essays written and presented by experienced essayist, Fiona Stafford, Professor of Literature at Somerville College, Oxford. Following her three popular essay series The Meaning of Trees for BBC Radio 3, Fiona explores the symbolism, importance, topicality and surprises of five of the UK's most common flowers. Across the series of essays, our ambiguous relationship with some of our best known and loved flowers is explored.
Lilies have contradictorily represented death and purity, peace and weaponry, salvation and crucifixion. Nowadays there are thousands of varieties of lilies, and global dominance in this internationally lucrative industry has over the centuries moved from Japan to the USA. Many flowers we call lilies are not in fact lilies at all, including waterlilies and also lily of the valley, which is more closely related to asparagus. Our most popular lilies in the UK are a fatal danger to cats from their pollen.
Producer - Turan Ali
A Bona Broadcasting production for BBC Radio 3.