The Chemistry of Roses

A day after the anticipated, or in some cases, dreaded Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to look up an infographic for the Chemistry of Roses. Going at $1.50 usually, they were, as expected, marked up to $3 for a single rose, and with a few floral arrangements that are individually cheap per piece, you could end up with corsages that costed $40 and above!

Now what is it actually about roses that entices people so much? Is it the color? The aroma? Tradition? Some conspiracy made up by florists in ages past to boost their economy for a few days around the 14th of February?

Nonetheless, let’s take a deeper look at the Chemistry. (from Compound Interest)


Red may be the traditional color for roses during Valentine’s Day, but there are various other shades that may be desirable. Carothenoids and anthocyanins are responsible for the color of the petals. Now, there are over 75 different carothenoids across 40 different yellow rose petals alone! However, for red roses, the anthocyanins are surprisingly not as diverse, and hence… more unique in a fashion.

Strange to say, there are colorless compounds that exist in rose petals, that can interact with common colored compounds such as cyanin and pelargonin to influence the shade that we actually see via a phenomenon called ‘copigmentation’.

Color may attract attention, but what about the aroma? Compounds such as (-)-cis-rose oxide (quite a generic name to be honest), rose ketones e.g. beta damascenone and terpene compounds e.g. geraniol, nerol, citronellol, and farnesol may also contribute to the scent. What’s really interesting is that these compounds crop up in other flowers as well, but it takes an expert nose to be able to tell the difference without the gift of sight.

Hope everyone had an enjoyable (and not-so-expensive) Valentine’s Day!


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