Rose’s Scent: What Does A Rose Smell Like?
If you love roses, then one of your favorite things about them is probably their fragrance. As that is one of the true joys of enjoying the rose flower, it can be surprising to learn that their aroma was not a key reason behind their commercial hybridization and was not something that was fully utilized for centuries of use. The fragrance was, for a long time, not considered to be as important of a quality by flower breeders, who instead focused their attention on developing petal color and repeat blooming.
The rose flower has a vast range of smells, many of which are the result of floral breeding during the last century. The spectrum of fragrance spans from delightful to unpleasant, including notes such as boxwoods, green tea, honey, vine, moss, fruit, and many other flowers. Scents in roses come from over 300 compounds.
The alluring fragrance of the rose flower, especially the more unusual derivatives, is often utilized for perfume and floral competitions. It is a scent that perfumers have been attempting to catch and bottle for centuries. But what does a rose actually smell like?
A Brief History Of The Rose
Roses have been documented for longer than most other garden plants and flowers. The earliest rose leaves were found in the Colorado Rockies from 35 to 32 million years ago from the Paleolithic Era. The first mention of roses was found in Asia around 3000 BC and elsewhere around 2300 BC. Indigenous people in North America have historically used the rose for medicinal purposes. Rose cultivation is an ancient art and practice that has resulted in over 13,000 varieties of roses.
Roses were coveted by Romans during the Roman Empire. The flowers were in particular used to scent rooms after bathing. Historical lore has it that Cleopatra even filled a room over a foot deep with rose petals while romancing Marc Anthony. The two main rose types used during this period were the Damask rose and the Gallica rose.
Utilizing the fragrance and aesthetic beauty of the rose was not something that became popular en masse until the Victorian era of the 1800s. Before that, they were primarily used for medicinal purposes or to mask odors. During this era, flowers were first used in both homes and gardens because of their pleasant aromas. This time period is also when people first began to attempt to define and classify scents. It would take more than another hundred years before the basic rose scents would be classified and their chemical compounds properly identified.
The Main Rose Scents
Broadly speaking, there are five main rose fragrances: Old or Traditional Rose (also known as Damask), Tea, Myrrh, Fruit, and Musk, although there are variations within all of the categories. The fragrance is also susceptible to change depending on the weather, time of day, season, and even just from year to year. That is why it is important to check in with your roses and smell them as much as possible!
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Old/Traditional Rose Notes in Rose Fragrance
The particular scent majority of people associate with roses belongs to the ancient and beloved Damask Rose. This is the variety of roses that is most associated with its flower type. Renowned for its fine fragrance, this is considered to be the most fragrant of rose varieties and is thought to be the standard. The modern “Gertrude Jekyll” English Rose has petals that are often used for creating essential oils due to their powerful and rich aroma.
These roses are commercially harvested for rose oil that will then make rose water and rose concentrate. The petals are also edible and used for natural food flavoring, garnish, tea, and even sometimes as a sugar preservative.
Tea Notes In Rose Fragrance
Tea notes in roses smell like fresh tea leaves. This scent is earthy, perhaps even a little reminiscent of tar, and can also carry a strong essence of violet. This can be found in tea roses, of course, but also a number of English Roses as well. It has also been described as having essences of nutmeg, nasturtium, and fruit.
Myrrh Notes In Rose Fragrance
The Myrrh notes found in rose fragrances can be considered divisive. Some find it pleasant, while others prefer different dominant fragrances. Its scent is comparable to sweet and spicy anise. This scent palette is most commonly found amongst English Roses. This scent is found almost exclusively in David Austin rose varieties.
Fruit Notes In Rose Fragrance
The combination of rose and fruit tones is very popular. Rose fragrances will usually carry other layers of fruits such as raspberry, lemon, apricot, peach, or even banana. The classical rose scent is often supplemented by other notes, such as berry or clover. The many combinations and findings of fruit layers within a rose fragrance speak to how complicated and layered it is.
Musk Notes In Rose Fragrance
Some flowers release a fragrance that is similar to real musk. It is a simultaneously sweet and spicy smell, giving ode to meadows, honey, and fruit notes. However, unlike other rose scents, the muskiness derives from the plant’s stamen, whereas other aromas come from the flower petals.
The scent of a rose usually does not spread far. More often than not, people will have to lean close and stop and smell the roses. But when it comes to a musky rose scent, the stamens fill the surrounding air with its aroma and can even be felt from a distance.
How Does Scent Work?
Mentally and physiologically processing a scent is more of a complicated process than one might originally think. When we smell, the aroma chemicals travel through the nose into the brain’s olfactory system, which controls our sense of smell. The chemical compounds are received by the body’s receptors, which then, in turn, translate the smell to our brain. The variations within the aromatic experience when smelling a rose has to do with the different dissolving speeds of the scent chemical compounds.
The scent a rose emits also changes depending on the time of day. Roses are at their most potent fragrance early in the morning. Roses bloom in cycles. But many roses are harvested in the early hours of summertime when the blooms are the strongest. Warm, humid weather intensifies the floral scent. An oncoming rainstorm can bring out the floral aroma.
Rose scent can even change from indoor to outdoor. Even just cutting a rose’s stem can change the chemical release of the flower’s scent, so a rose that was not particularly fragrant outside can smell completely different once sitting in a vase indoors. Thanks to cultivating advancements, roses can now be enjoyed all year round.
Once a rose has fully opened, the scent changes yet again from the scent that was from the bud. The chemicals change as the petals unfurl themselves. It is important to keep in mind that the scent of flowers was not intended for us flower admirers but to attract the attention of pollinating insects. The flower head releases its fragrance when it is ready to be pollinated. This can often mean that half-open flowers have a stronger scent.
The Relationship Between Rose Color And Smell
Generally speaking, roses with darker color tones and a full bunch of petals with a thick and velvety consistency tend to smell the best.
- Red and pink roses tend to smell like what we associate with the typical traditional rose floral scent.
- White and yellow roses can smell like violets, nasturtium, and lemons.
- Vibrant yellow and orange roses can smell like a variety of fruits, nasturtium, violets, and cloves.
All of these different scents combine and blend to become what we now think of as a luscious and nuanced rose scent.
Roses have a wide range of complicated smells, from floral and tea aromas to spicy, fruity, and musky scents. A rose’s appearance is a beautiful sight to behold, and its fragrance is just as lovely.
Smelling roses is a magical experience, instilling both an essence of calm and a feeling of raised spirits. It is a relaxing and restorative experience that encourages taking deep breaths. The scent of a rose contains multitudes. The fragrance of a rose is evocative, romantic, and can even be surprising. No two people perceive scent exactly the same, and smelling roses is an individualized and personal experience.