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What rose is a symbol of death?

What rose is a symbol of death?

Roses have been used as symbols throughout history, with different colors carrying a variety of meanings. When it comes to symbolizing death, there is one rose in particular that stands out: the black rose. Let’s take a look at why the black rose is associated with death and how it came to represent mourning, loss, and bereavement.

The Meaning Behind the Black Rose

Black roses are most commonly used to symbolize grief, death, and mortality. The color black evokes a sense of mystery and solemnity, which is why it is so often associated with mourning. A black rose laid on a grave represents the ending of a life, a final farewell, and the transition from life to death. It signifies the completion of a passage that can never be returned from. The black rose stands in stark visual contrast to most fresh-cut roses, which are brightly hued in various shades of red, pink, white, and yellow. This contrast with other colorful roses helps establish the black rose as an unequivocal symbol of death and loss.

But why specifically a rose to represent death? Roses have an extensive history of symbolism because of their beauty and fragrance, but also their thorns which represent defense and loss. Red roses are associated with romantic love, pink roses with gentility and grace. The white rose stands for innocence and purity. The contrast of the black rose to all these other colored blooms heightens its air of mystery. Roses also have a long-standing cultural association with death via the term “rosebud” meaning a young woman who has died in her youth.

The black rose first came into prominence as a symbol of death in 1864 when a diplomatic incident involving the United Kingdom and the United States occurred which was thereafter referred to as the “Black Rose Incident.” This helped establish the black rose as a symbol of bitter rivalry and conflict between two opposing forces. From there, its association with loss, bereavement and death grew.

Origin Theories Behind the Black Rose

Black roses do not exist naturally, so they must be cultivated. There are a few origin theories and techniques behind the development of black roses over history:

  • Breeding dark red roses – Very deep, dark red roses can appear black under certain lighting conditions. These extremely dark red roses can be bred through selective breeding choosing roses with increasingly darker pigments across generations.
  • Dyeing white roses – White roses naturally lack pigment. Roses can be placed in black dye or ink to thoroughly stain the petals black.
  • Dry treatment – Roses can be hung upside down or laid out to dry, causing their pigments to concentrate, deepen in color and appear black.
  • Genetic engineering – More modern biotechnology techniques can manipulate genes that control pigment production to breed genetically engineered black roses.

Most black roses sold today are cultivated by dyeing, drying, or breeding very dark red roses. Genetically engineered black roses also exist but are rarer and more expensive. Whatever the particular technique, black roses available for purchase are distinctly darker than any rose found in nature.

Use in Funerals and Memorials

When a person has died, the black rose is frequently used as part of funeral arrangements and memorials. Some specific ways the black rose appears in funerals:

  • Wreaths and flower arrangements – Black roses are often included in mixed flower wreaths and arrangements placed on the casket.
  • Floral sprays – Sprays containing black roses are sometimes placed on and around the grave site.
  • Single roses – Individual black roses may be presented to the bereaved family or laid on the casket.
  • Rose inscriptions – Messages may be written or inscribed on the black roses such as dates and names as keepsakes for family members.

Seeing a black rose among funeral flowers immediately conveys a sense of loss and mourning. It somberly contrasts with cheerier flowers assembled together in mixed floral tributes. The black rose’s funeral symbolism transcends cultures, appearing in ceremonies worldwide.

Tattoos and Art

Beyond funerals, black roses also frequently appear as a symbolic motif in gothic art and tattoo design:

  • Grave tattoos – Black roses are a common element in grave-themed tattoo designs.
  • Dark art – The black rose has a strong association with gothic and darker styles of art.
  • Melancholy art – The rose symbolizes unfulfilled love, disappointment, and sadness in more melancholy artwork.
  • Eternity – A black rose with thorns unraveling into a spiraling design signifies eternity.

In tattoo art and design, the black rose has a rebellious, edgy quality while also retaining its somber symbolism. Its thorns represent loss as well as defense against that loss. The bold black color makes a striking visual impact in body art.

Literature and Media

The black rose appears as a poignant symbol across literary and media forms:

  • War poetry – Symbolizes the tragic loss of life in war.
  • Gothic fiction – Represents darkness, death, and decay.
  • Television – Used in names and logos for darker, edgier shows.
  • Movies – Utilized as a symbol in horror, gothic, and vampire films.
  • Music – Evokes somberness and rebellion in rock, punk, and gothic bands.

In every artistic medium, the black rose retains its identifying link with the end of life. It also carries additional meanings like anarchy, nonconformity, and rejection of societal norms. The depth of possible interpretations gives creative works incorporating the black rose rich nuance.

Cultural Variations

While the black rose universally represents death and grief, additional cultural meanings include:

  • Germany – Switch from romantic relationship to one of antipathy and hatred.
  • Italy – Impending death of a relationship, whether platonic or romantic.
  • Mexico – Loss of virginity.
  • United States – Vengeance.

So while the core symbolic meaning remains constant, cultural variations provide additional nuanced layers. This helps the black rose retain deep cultural resonance across different geographies.


No matter its exact use, the black rose stands as a powerful bereavement emblem all over the world. Its links with death, mourning and grief give this flower a somber beauty. The rich symbolism and mystery of the black rose live on through funeral traditions, creative works, and popular culture. So when choosing a symbol to represent life’s end, no flower carries more meaning than the black rose.