Why You Can’t Stop And Smell The Roses

A forgetful husband thought he had conquered the age-old male problem of recalling the date of his wife’s birthday and their wedding anniversary.  So using a credit cared, he opened up an account at the local flower shop and instructed the florist to send flowers yearly on those two days, each time attaching a a note that said from your loving husband.  For a while, all went well, with his wife really appreciating the new display of romance.  However, one day entering the house he saw a dozen roses and said rather offhandedly to his wife, “Nice flowers, who gave them to you ?”

A question.  What’s the first thing you do when you see a rose in bloom?  Stick your nose in it, of course!  Just about everyone does this.  You notice the petals, get up close and inhale; hoping to catch a sweet perfume fragrance.  Sadly, more often than not, your effort is rewarded with the scent of, well, nothing. So why is it, when for hundreds of years roses were fragrant, do they today have very little if any aroma at all?  The answer lies is two  words, “disease resistance”.

God made roses with two sets of genes, one group for  beauty and one group for fragrance.  And these two were perfectly balanced.   Yes, roses didn’t last that long, but they sure smelled good while they did.  (And for centuries, roses were brought inside far more for their fragrance than for their beauty.)  But over the last number of years, the genetic emphasis has been on increasing the longevity of the roses’ beauty (making it the dominant gene) resulting in the diminishing of the roses’ fragrance (making it the recessive gene).  In other words, to have roses – better suited to a wider range of climates, more resistant to various kinds of diseases, and longer able to look fresh when cut – something had to go and that was the fragrance.  Of course, the motivation for all of this is business.  Roses today often travel thousands of miles to get to consumers and as one botanist put it, “It might be a week or two before it gets to you.  So we are trying to  breed a flower that will last a long time so it can survive on the airplane, on the train, on the truck and then in the florist shop, in the delivery van and finally in the house, office, chapel, hospital, church or wherever else it’s on display.”  (As an example, today, the majority of roses for sale in North American florist shops and grocery stores are grown in Africa).

So what do you do if you want a fragrant rose?  At the moment, about the only ones that you can count on to have such an aroma are the old varieties and these you’ll have to grow in your own garden.  (The David Austin Rose Company is considered to be the best site in the world for fragrant rose resources and rose  growing information.)  As well, remember rose colour is strongly correlated with rose scent. Thus generally speaking, roses with the best fragrance have the darker colours (and also contain the most petals).

The bottom line?  Roses are red and violets are blue, and this is why they don’t smell like they used to.