Pictures from left to right- Dog rose Rosa canina, Field rose R. arvensis, Sweet briar R.rubiginosa
The rose is the ultimate symbol of the English garden. Its beauty and fragrance has captured the heart of the Nation despite its vicious thorns that could cause infection. Maybe it's due to its thorns that it has been used as a symbol of warring factions and such a charming flower speaks of the masked deceptions of politics and pleasantries?
Shakespeare used the symbology of the red and white rose in his play of Henry Sixth setting them against each other with the words:
Let him—a true-born gentleman who values the honour of his birth—pluck a white rose with me from this bush here, if he thinks that I have spoken the truth. ... Let him that is no coward or flatterer, but who dares to tell the real truth, pluck a red rose with me, from this thorn.
In later writings the phrase ‘War of the Roses’ is coined by Sir Walter Scott to describe the English Civil Wars between the Royal Households of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose). This symbology seems to ring true and perhaps speaks of older folklore.
The rose as it represents love maybe is fraught with much deception as pain and love so intricately weave together as joy and woe do according to Blakes auguries of innocence:
‘Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so,
We were made for joy and woe,
And when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go.’
William Blake seems to be alluding to opposites, polarities within us all that we cannot escape and ultimately need to be woven together. Much older lore seems to also speak of these opposites but using dragons instead of roses and yet still referring to warring factions and still using the clear colours of red and white.
This time the red dragon represents the British and the white dragon is the invading Saxons. This image was depicted in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of Kings and is rooted in even older stories of warring dragons causing chaos across Britain until caught by Lludd and buried at Dinas Emrys.
Let us come back then to the rose for in older lore it was also recognised such as in the story of Suibne Gelt, a man who seeks the solitude of nature after the conflict of War. In nature he connects with the animals, birds and plants and writes verses about them. Here is the verse he is said to have uttered about the wild rose:
'O briar, little arched one, thou grantest no fair terms,
thou ceasest not to tear me,
till thou hast thy fill of blood. '
Irish texts Society (translated by J.G. O’Keefe)
This verse aptly moves us away from the Garden Rose admired in later times to the wild roses of Britain, who’s arching spiny and vicious thorns are decorated with the delicate petals of flowers that provide nectar for insects and hips (fruit) for the birds.
There are three main common roses which are the Dog rose (Rosea canina), Field rose (R.arvensis) and the Sweet briar (R.rubiginosa) as well as the more specialist low growing species of coast and chalk downlands the Burnet rose (R.pimpinellifolia).
If you have any medical conditions please check with a medical herbalist first before taking any plant and only harvest it if you are 100% sure what it is!
Our wild roses are known throughout history as remedies for coughs and colds especially when their hips (fruit) are made into a syrup. The buds and petals are said to strengthen the stomach and make a pleasing tea which I like to have mixed with honey and elderflower.
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Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.