Monday, December 7, 2009

Rose round-up

The news in October was that a Japanese firm had succeeded in growing the elusive blue rose. Horticulturists have come close, but the results have been described as "light purple" or "mauvey-gray." Dying white roses has long been the only option, because there is no natural blue pigmentation in the rose, but Suntory achieved the feat by splicing the gene that synthesizes the blue pigment in petunias. Roses of many colors have been grown and hybridized, including green and brown. Among the Victorians, who communicated by means of the language of flowers, blue roses signified mystery or the attempt to attain the impossible. In China, they signify hope against unattainable love. But roses are cultivated not just for their colors, but the variations in shape. And they have even been cultivated by prisoners.
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Scientists, meanwhile, do more than smell (or gaze at) the roses. They determined last spring that roses are red not to attract bees and birds, but to deter them. Last year, they replicated the rose's ability to grip water droplets on their petals, even when they are held upside-down. And this summer, they concluded in an experiment that people are more observant when viewing the world through rose-colored glasses - literally.

As interesting as the 20-year development of a blue rose may be, I like reading about chance mutations like Rosa chinensis viridflora. Discovered in the 18th c., this aforementioned green rose has no petals: its blooms are entirely made of sepals. But without petals, it is without fragrance! Which brings me to the subject of rose oil or attar, which is produced by distilling rose petals and used in perfumes and cosmetics. Who knew that one of the leading suppliers is Bulgaria? The 1st picture illustrates rose-picking in Kazanlak, Bulgaria, in the 1870s; the 2nd picture shows a woman in a rose-picking ceremony near the same town this year.

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