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The rose (Rosa multiflora).


The rose (Rosa multiflora).

The rose! Replete with meanings: as color, for protypic Latin declension, as a symbol of love and religious purity (Virgin Mary), as rose water or rose oil fragrances, as a first name, architecturally (rose window, rosace), as a badge of distinction (rosette), for the British dynasties of York and Lancaster (War of the Roses), as a secret society (Rosicrucians),

The large number of different cultivars matches that of meanings. Whereas the genus Rosa has between 100 and 200 species, only a few have led to the cultivated plants. For some reason, perhaps indeed the phenotypic plasticity, mankind has projected his dreams onto its flower and its thorny stems. The plant sprouted independently in China and Persia about 5,000 years ago and was cultivated, before spreading westward. It was depicted in a fresco painted 3,500 years ago in Knossos, Crete.

The human mind is admirable in the very proliferation of different attributes it can endow any natural object with. The rose exemplifies this trait. But many other plants illustrate it as well, whether trees, shrubs, fruit or vegetables. It goes together with domestication, for which plants are assuredly more pliable than animals.

As wrote the American poet William Carlos Williams (Spring and All, 1923), The rose is obsolete / but each petal ends in / an edge, the double facet / cementing the grooved /columns of air — The edge / cuts without cutting / meets — nothing — renews / itself in metal or porcelain. Not to mention Gertrude Stein’s A rose is a rose is a rose!