The Meanings of Red, White & Yellow Roses

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The Meanings of Red, White & Yellow Roses
The colour of roses symbolises virtues such as love and innocence. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

The saying goes that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, but what about a rose of a different colour? Does a rose still hold the same meaning even if a person opts for a white rose instead of red one? As it turns out, colours of roses have specific meanings. While the shape remains the same with each colour, the meaning behind the rose changes with the colour.

The Color of Love

It probably comes as no surprise that the red rose signifies love. This Valentine's Day staple tells lovers everywhere that love is stronger than the thorns that come with it. According to the 800 Florals website, more than 100 million red roses are sold on Valentine's Day each year, helping to make red roses the most popular colour of roses sold.

Marriage and Courage

If the red rose stands for love, then the white rose stands for marriage. This so-called bridal rose by some embraces purity, innocence, truth, reverence and humility of young love. In a broader cultural sense, the white rose carries other meanings as well. In Germany during the 1930s and '40s, the white rose came to mean courage. According to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation website, a group of students who called their group "The White Rose" resisted the Nazi regime by writing and distributing leaflets, speaking out against the oppression and encouraging German people to stand up to the Nazis. The group's courage cost several members their lives, including two of the most famous members of the group, Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans.

Jealous Friends

The meaning of the yellow rose arises out of a fickle history. In the Victorian era, the yellow rose did not stand for friendship as it does today but jealousy and dying love instead. Today, the yellow rose's bright colour warms the heart and promotes gladness and affection. A youngster compared to some flowers in history, the yellow rose wasn't discovered until the 18th century, where it grew in the wild in the Middle East. The yellow rose also didn't always have the sweet smell it is associated with today, but fortunately this brightly coloured bloom evolved through hybridisation.

Wars of the Roses

It turns out that the war of the roses has greater historical significance than sharing a name with a Hollywood movie about a husband and wife in the middle of a bitter divorce. The real wars of the roses was a civil war between the House of Lancaster and House of York in medieval England. The Wars of the Roses website names the usual suspects for starting war, including civil unrest and a common lineage between both houses under King Edward III. The rose reference comes from how the houses identified themselves. The Lancastrian House wore a badge adorned with a red rose and the House of York donned a white rose. However, no house wearing a yellow rose badge fought in this ongoing feud, which lasted from 1455 to 1487.

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