The rose is the first flower whose perfume has been recorded. Undoubtedly many other scented flowers existed before those records were made, but, being inferior, they were disregarded. The historians of perfumery tell us also that the rose was the first flower from which any form of perfume was made, and that Avicenna, an illustrious Arabian doctor, discovered the art of extracting perfume from flowers by distillation. He made his first experiments on R. centifolia (the Cabbage Rose), and so invented rose-water. The sweetness of rose scent is mentioned by the earliest Greek and Roman writers.
Nature provides a plant with blossoms as part of its reproductive system. These flowers must attract insects, and in order that they may do so they have perfume and showy petals. Many sweetly scented roses have less attractive colouring; perhaps they do not need both, or perhaps they inherit the defect from some ancestor.
Fragrance is expected of roses, and it is one of their greatest attractions. A rose with only faint perfume is no less beautiful, but it is certainly less alluring. The truest, simplest, and least complex love of flowers is found in the man or woman who grows just a few plants of this and that, in a purely unscientific way, and does not know the names of more than two or three of them.
Hand him or her a rose. There will be little caring for form. Size and colour will be admired, but before there will be time to express an opinion that bloom will have been smelt. Does that happen with a daisy, a dahlia, a hibiscus, a chrysanthemum, a camellia, or a gladiolus? Perfume is expected of a rose.
Perfume In Modern Roses
It is commonly said that modern roses lack the perfume of older sorts. Excluding R. damascena, such a statement does not stand investigation. It is extremely rare to find any modern rose scentless; there are a few, but there were also some among the old varieties. Actually some had distinctly unpleasant odours, for example R. foetida. This species has been responsible for altering the type of perfume in some roses of today. Their fragrance is no longer unpleasant but has definitely changed.
Although modern roses are just as rich in fragrance as the older types, few people realize that perfume has become more varied. Once the rich, sweet damask perfume was almost universal, differing only in intensity among popular roses from one sort to another. Then came the Tea Rose and its typical perfume. The hybridization of the two types brought the Hybrid Tea and a blending of the perfumes. Some of the progeny had nearly the damask perfume, some almost the tea perfume and the majority an intermediate type.
Oil Of Roses
Essential, or volatile, oils are highly aromatic, and sufficiently soluble in water to impart their odour and taste to it. In flowers they are mainly in the petals; there is a little in the pollen and stamens. They volatilize quickly and easily. Tiny particles are released under the influence of moisture, sun, light, changes of temperature, and maturity of the bloom.
Some varieties of roses make more of these oils than others, and they differ slightly in composition; hence the variations in intensity and type of fragrance. Usually, the double roses hold their fragrance longer because more of the petal surfaces are hidden and the oil volatilizes more slowly.
As a bloom unfolds and exposes its pistil and stamens to insects for pollination, it not only increases its attractiveness by more fully displaying its colourful petals, but it becomes more strongly perfumed. Even indoors, roses increase their scent as they open. Blooms displayed on show benches have usually lost a great proportion of their fragrance, due to being kept in cool rooms and to being sprayed with water.
The rose is indeed beautiful to look at and just as beautiful to smell. Grow roses and you will have these wonderful qualities in your garden all year round.
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