One of the holy grails of horticulture is the blue rose. A variety of rose colours have been cultivated using various techniques such as hybridisation, ranging from the classic deep red to bright yellow, to even a mix of colours. However, there has never been a successful case of breeding blue roses.
This is why blue roses have become synonymous with the longing for attaining the impossible. It was a symbol of the Romanticism movement, representing the desire and striving for the infinite and unreachable; a dream that cannot be realised. The flower meaning for the blue rose is secret, unattainable love.
The reason why blue roses are impossible to produce naturally is that they do not have the gene for the protein that makes a blue hue. The biochemistry of flower colours is complex, but essentially, the blue colour seen in flowers such as pansies and butterfly peas is produced by the chemical delphinidin. Roses lack this pigment and only contain pigments that produce red and orange colours.
Because blue roses have always been deemed impossible, florists have had to resort to using blue dye on white roses to produce artificial blue roses. But this all changed with the introduction of genetic modification technology.
In 2005, scientists reported that they created the first true “blue rose”, by genetically engineering a white rose to produce delphinidin and using RNA interference to shut down all other colour production. However, the results were disappointing and the so-called “blue rose” turned out to be more of a mauve or lavender colour, due to the blue having a red tinge.
This is because rose petals are more acidic than true blue flowers such as pansies. Delphinidin is degraded by acid, meaning that you cannot produce the deep blue found in pansies in roses without finding a way to reduce the acidity. This chemical phenomenon can also be seen in hydrangeas, where the red and pink petals turn blue and violet when you acidify the soil that it is growing in.
Although we now harness powerful tools to modify nature in ways deemed impossible in the past, nature still proves to be tricky and elusive.
Why do we give flowers to express our love for another person? Handwritten letters take effort and pouring out your heart, while diamonds represent eternity. Flowers on the other hand, are easy to acquire and will eventually wilt away. Of course, that is a rather cynical view. There are numerous reasons why people choose flowers as gifts.
Flowers have a language of their own, so choosing the right flower can mean all the difference for a person who has an interest in flowers. For example, red roses represent true love and passion, lilies represent innocence and purity, while lilacs represent memories of youth and your first love.
It is true that flowers are not permanent things, but they symbolise an aspect of love that is more important than “eternity”. A flower wilts when it is not cared for. Flowers wilt when they are not given enough water or just left in stale water for days without changing the vase water. Every flower needs different kind of care, for example, an orchid may wilt if left in direct sunlight and should be kept in indirect light.
Relationships are inherently dynamic – if you do not pay enough attention to the other person and constantly care and make an effort, it will slowly wilt until it dries up into bitterness. In that regard, perhaps flowers are a better gift than diamonds to symbolise love, as it is a reminder how true love is not something you expect to always stay the same, but something that you have to work hard to maintain.
Or perhaps there is a simpler reason we give flowers to each other. They are simply beautiful to look at add a fresh aroma to the environment. At the most superficial level, a lovely bouquet of flowers is a pleasant thing to receive. Perhaps beyond all the metaphors and hidden meaning, all we wish to say is: “I want to put a smile on your face”.
Roses are the most common flowers used in modern society to profess one’s love. However, many people do not know the true meaning behind each flower. For example, every colour has a different meaning for roses.
Red rose: true love, passion
White rose: eternal love, innocence
Black rose: death, farewell
Yellow rose: friendship, jealousy, betrayal
Pink rose: grace, gratitude, youth
Mix of red and white roses: unity
As seen from above, a rose can mean love, friendship or even separation. It is also important to note that roses are traditionally given as a bouquet of one, six, dozen or any multiple of six. The following is a list of common flowers and what they symbolise:
Acacia: secret love
Bellflower: thinking of you
Cherry blossoms: beautiful mind, purity
Chrysanthemum: peace, love, mourning (used in funerals)
Cosmos: forever, devotion
Daffodil: Chivalry, respect, unrequited love
Daisies: innocence, modesty, beauty
Edelweiss: memories of an important person
Hibiscus: rare beauty
Lavender: silence, devotion
Lilac: memories of youth, first love
Lily: innocence, chastity, purity
Magnolia: unrequited love
Pansies: memories of love
Tulip: declaration of love (red), hopeless love (yellow), broken heart (white)
A keen observer would note that each number in the above sequence is the sum of the two numbers before it. These are known as Fibonacci numbers and are among the most famous number sequences in mathematics.
It is famous because of some unique properties. For example, every third number is even, every xth number is the multiple of Fx (e.g. 4th number = 3, 8th number = 21…) and the list goes on. It is also known to approximate golden spirals, a mathematical function that is closely related with yet another famous number: the golden ratio.
However, a more interesting (and more relatable) fact about these numbers is that they appear repeatedly in nature. It has been noted for many centuries that plants tend to follow the Fibonacci sequence in various ways. This includes the number of branches of trees that grow per year, the number of petals on a flower (almost all flowers have a Fibonacci number of petals) and most interesting of all: the arrangement of florets on the face of a sunflower. If one carefully scrutinises the face of a sunflower (also applies to pine cones), they will note that the florets (tiny pieces on the face) are arranged in what appears to be spirals. They are actually arranged on a stack of spirals, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. The number of spirals for both directions are always two Fibonacci numbers next to each other (e.g. 34 and 55).
This is because natural selection pushes the plants to arrange their florets, petals and tree branches in the most efficient manner possible, which is provided by the Fibonacci sequence.