Roses are red

from the Project Gutenberg EBook of Denslow’s Mother Goose, by Anonymous Original copyright 1902 by William Wallace Denslow via Wikipedia

Valentine’s day is nearly upon us and what do plants have to do with it? Well, when it comes to using flowers as an expression of your romantic love for someone else, roses are the way to go. How much do you know about these buds in your bouquet?

Anthocyanidine via Wikipedia

Deep red roses are the most popular color purchased for Valentine’s Day. I’ve written about plant pigments previously. The same anthocyanins responsible for the flaming color of fall leaves also make roses red. Although red may be traditional, it is far from the only choice. Pink roses with less anthocyanin pigments and white roses without any flower pigments are also popular. Yellow roses get their hue from carotenoids. Some rose varieties have dual colors, with one color fading into the other at the tips of the petals. This is because the cells at the tips of the opening rosebud can make the pigments while those closer to the base of the flower cannot.

Lucy Roberts from Bartlesville, OK via Wikipedia

You may also find other ‘tinted’ roses on the market in shades of blue, pink, yellow or purple or rainbow combinations with sections displaying multiple colors. Don’t worry, they’re not GMO. The secret behind those buds isn’t genetics, because there are currently no varieties that naturally have that kind of spatial arrangement of pigments. Multi-colored tinted roses are created by sitting white roses in water containing various dyes. As the cut flower stems suck up the colored water and transport it through their xylem, the dye is also transported and deposited in the cells of the flower petals. On a clean white background, the dyes give their characteristic color to the petals. By splitting the stems and placing them each in differently dyed water, a rainbow effect is achieved because the channels the plants use to draw up water maintains the spatial arrangement over the length of the stem and into the flower petals.

Have you ever wondered where your roses came from before they were arranged in your vase? The overwhelming majority of roses on the American market are grown in Colombia and Ecuador. The year-round mild temperatures and long days of equatorial sun make it the ideal place for producing roses for floral arrangements. Plus, it is just a 3 hour plane ride to Miami. More than 1 billion stems are imported annually with activity increasing the two weeks prior to Valentine’s Day. Depending on their final destination within the U.S., these flowers leave Miami on another plane or refrigerated truck. On Monday morning of this week, the roses in your bouquet were still attached to their plant and basking in the sun. By Friday, they are on display in your vase, a symbol of someone’s undying devotion to you. It’s quite the feat, given that these delicate buds must be handled throughout the entire process by hand.


References and Links:

If you’re curious enough to experiment with your bouquet, here’s a link with instructions on how to use paper towel chromatography to separate the pigments in your flowers:


4 thoughts on “Roses are red

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