Cemetery Flowers and Cut Roses
All-Souls' Day is November 2. This religious
holiday following All-Saints' Day has traditionally involved
the placing of flowers or plants on the graves of loved ones.
This practice is not new. The custom of placing flowers and
flowering shrubs or trees in cemeteries comes from the ancient
Mediterranean and Middle East. Flowers were found, for example,
in King Tut's tomb. Still today, cemeteries are frequently
adorned with a variety of flowers, plants, and trees. The
same Iris x albicans (White Flag) used as a cemetery plant
by the Muslims can still be commonly found in most American
The most commonly used cemetery flower has to be the rose.
So common are roses in cemeteries that even the names of the
graveyards are often derived from this plant. You may often
see many "Rosehill", "Roselawn" and "Rosedale"
cemeteries. Virgin Mary inherited the rose symbol from her
prototype and is herself the "Rose of Sharon". Often
in paintings, the Madonna is shown with roses. Not surprisingly,
then, the rose bush became a typical European cemetery plant,
particularly in the provinces once ruled by Rome, including
England. The lily is also a common cemetery plant, often replaced
in Southern cemeteries by other lily?like plants including
crinums, narcissus, amaryllis and other hardy bulbs.
Yet, by no means do the rose and lily complete the list
of typical cemetery plants. Evergreens, irises, crape myrtles,
bluebonnets, true myrtles and nandinas are common. Of these,
the evergreen, represented in Texas by the cedar or juniper,
appears most consistently. The frequently seen nandina (Nandina
domestica), a native of Eastern Asia, is often known as heavenly
bamboo or sacred bamboo, where it is used as a traditional
cemetery plant. The Japanese also use Rosa whichuraiana, known
as the memorial rose, as a groundcover for individual graves.
In rural cemeteries, rambling roses are often most frequently
found—particularly Dorothy Perkins, a 1901 whichuraiana
Deeply ingrained in southern cemetery custom, the use of
flowers has spread to new varieties over the years. The traditional
rose and lily have been joined by such flowers as gardenia,
magnolia, azalea, bluebonnet, crape myrtle, nandina, and a
host of others.
Cut Flower Roses and Care
The link of the rose to the mother goddess is well known,
for this flower appears in many surviving depictions of her.
Demeter and Isis are often shown riding on a rose?wheeled
cart, while in Rome, the Magna Mater's attendants were garlanded
with roses. We still associate roses with motherhood, particularly
on Mother's Day, when offspring wear them to church. Not surprisingly,
then, the rosebush became a typical European cemetery plant,
particularly in the provinces once ruled by Rome, including
The lily, derived according to Mediterranean mythology from
the milk of Hera and later well established as a symbol of
the Madonna, is also a common cemetery plant. It seemingly
made a transition from paganism similar to that of the rose.
The iris, especially common in cemeteries, is perhaps best
interpreted as simply another representative of the traditional
flower custom. It possesses the added advantages of helping
hold the scraped earth in place and requiring little care.
However, some folks ascribe a Christian symbolism to the iris.
The say that growing in clusters, its pointed blades collectively
resemble palm fronds, symbolizing Palm Sunday and Christ's
last journey into Jerusalem. Some also identify the iris with
the Nile reeds that hid the infant Moses. The flower of the
iris was an ancient Egyptian regal symbol but seemingly had
no funerary significance there.
If you decide to put homegrown roses on a grave site or
just want to cut some roses for home use, BE SURE to "harvest"
the blooms so they will last for the longest possible time.
When you cut a rose from the plant, you sever it from its
life support system. And, as soon as the cut is made, the
rose, like an astronaut with a temporary life support system,
is in trouble.
The components of the life support system for the cut rose,
obtained from the plant before the cut was made, are: nutrients,
sugar, cool temperatures, anti?aging compounds and most importantly,
All these ingredients of the life support system are dependent
on a continuous and ample supply of water since they are all
soluble, or carried into the rose through water.
Research has shown that a molecule of water can move from
the base of a 24?inch cut rose up to the petals in 30 seconds
or less. Such movement occurs when the cut rose is in the
light at room temperatures.
The cells in the stem of a rose, which carry the water,
are like a handful of soda straws. As long as the straws are
in a glass of water, you can draw water up through them. Take
them out of the water while sucking on the straw, and you
draw up air.
The rose stem does the same thing, as its demand for water
is continuous even when severed from the mother plant. The
big difference, however, is that the cells in the rose stem
have "end plates" or small screens that allow water
to pass, but block the passage of air. A small bubble of air
is formed and trapped at the end of the rose stem when it
is cut from the plant.
Of course, with the base of the stem blocked with air, more
water cannot get up the stem even if you replace that stem
in water. In short, the rose is very near its life support
system but cannot get to it.
Another phenomenon that shortens vase life occurs when a
rose is removed from the plant, and sugars which move from
the leaves down to the root continue to flow for a short time,
but as the flower is cut from the plant, they have no place
to go. These sugars can move across the cut surface of the
stem and be drawn up into the water conducting cells where
they can crystallize (become solid) and block the water conducting
cells. This is particularly true if air have moved into these
In the case of air or sugar blockage, (or combination of
both) where the life?giving supply of water is cut off or
seriously reduced, the rose could wilt and die, even if it
is placed in water!
Fortunately, both air and sugar blockage that occurs in
the rose stem are restricted to the first ½ inch of
the stem from these base cut. Simply re-cutting the base of
the stem removes the block and gives the rose a chance to
again get hooked up to its life support water system.
To avoid letting the base of the stem "gulp" in
another air bubble when the new cut is made, however, we suggest
the re-cutting procedure take place under water. Using a sharp
knife or shears, with the base of the stem under water in
a pan or sink, OR, by simply holding the stem end under running
water when the cut is made, you insure a water supply to the
Once the cut is made under water, a small droplet of water
lands on the cut end, so you can then safely move the stem
to the vase with water where you plan to show off your handsome
blooms. Care must be taken that the cut end of the stem doesn't
dry off before it reaches its new water supply.
Occasionally, a rose will wilt or develop a weak stem just
below the bud causing the bloom to tip over. If you will remove
the bloom from the arrangement, re-cut about one inch from
the base of the stem (under water, of course), then submerge
the entire bloom stem and foliage under water for 20 or so
minutes. You will find the flower revives nicely and can be
placed in the arrangement.
When reviving a rose in this manner, we suggest the water
be about 100 degrees F and that you be sure to straighten
the angle of the head or it will revive with "bent neck."
For long?stemmed roses, a couple inches of water in the bottom
of your bathtub works well as a place you can lay the bloom
out flat underwater.
The vase life of your roses can be increased by 30 to 50
percent if you ask your florist for a packet of floral preservative
or "flower food", as it is sometimes called. Using
this material in the base water according to directions on
the packet or from your florist will keep your roses in good
condition much longer.
Remember, too, not to place your roses in direct sunlight,
in front of a heater or air conditioning register, or in a
very warm room. They don't like a lot of heat and drafts.
If convenient, we suggest you put your roses in a cool, dark
place at night. This will slow their opening and keep them
fresh for your enjoyment much longer.