Roses have a long, storied history. Fossils show that wild roses existed more than 35 million years ago. That means that roses have been on earth longer than humans. However, there is nothing to tell us how the flower began.
Wild rose bushes grew on hillsides on the island of Crete, Greece, thousands of years before Christ's birth. Roses and images of roses have also been found in tombs of ancient Egyptians.
The Chinese and the Egyptians are thought to have first cultivated roses, around 5,000 years ago, selecting plants on the basis of flower color. During the Middle Ages, monks and apothecaries grew roses for their medicinal value. Near the end of the Middle Ages, elaborate rose gardens could be found at the homes of royalty and the wealthy.
In the late 18th century, cultivated roses were introduced into Europe from China, a lineage to which most modern-day roses can be traced back. Today, the genus Rosa includes approximately 150 species spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico and northern Africa.
Roses have been symbols of love, beauty, and even war. In the 15th century, the rose was used as a symbol for the factions fighting to control England, in what is now known as the "War of the Roses." The white rose symbolized York, and the red rose, Lancaster.
In the 17th century, roses were so in demand and highly valued that royalty treated roses and rose water as legal tender, using them for payments and bartering.