Rose petals both attract and repel water droplets.

Facts About Rose Petals

by Suzanne S. Wiley

Fragrant, soft, sometimes satiny, always beautiful, rose petals adorn and scent gardens, vases, romantic baths and even kitchen gardens -- rose petals are used in jelly, tea, rose water, candy and other food delights. From an ecological perspective, rose petals serve the purpose of gaining attention of insects and animals that will pollinate the flowers. The petals have special properties that could improve water-repelling technologies, and their ability to absorb dyed water has led to them being one of the more commonly dyed flowers available.

1. Scent

The familiar scent of roses originates in the petals, which contain the oil that is extracted and sold in stores. Wild, uncultivated roses tend to have more scent, which makes sense as those roses do not depend on humans to help with pollination. Parents and children might have fun putting roses to a "sniff test" that reveals which animals the plant is trying most to attract. The time of day a scent becomes stronger, according to the University of Florida, provides the answer. Petals that emit the strongest fragrance in the daytime attract bees and butterflies, and petals with scents most noticeable at night attract moths, bats and other insects.

2. Dyed Roses

While roses are available in several colors, there are a few, such as blue, that only occur if the rose has been dyed. Like other flowers, dipping the cut stem end into water containing a dye will lead to the rose drawing the color up into the petals. You can also dye a rose so that four colors are divided among the petals. According to the International Society for Horticultural Science, this is made possible by the unique structure of the rose and works like this: From the bottom of the stem, vertically cut four equal sections, and place each section in a different cup of dye. Begin with white roses for the best effect. You might use dyes in tropical colors for one bouquet, such as orange, red, yellow and peach; or ocean colors such as varying shades of blue and green.

3. Petals and Water

Rose petals can selectively repel and hold onto water droplets depending on the size of the droplet, according to a news story in the “The Columbian,” reporting on research in China. This trait allows roses to deflect large raindrops that could make the petals very soggy. If the water droplets are the right size, they’ll fit into matching microscopic crevices and valleys on the petal’s surface, providing moisture for the petal. According to the research reported in the Washington newspaper, the rose petals' structure is studied for usage in water-repellent clothing that imitates the petal's water repelling system.

4. Cautions

While rose petals are edible, before using them in the kitchen -- the same is true for other edible flowers -- always ensure the rose is free of pesticides and other contaminants. Roses purchased at a florist’s stand or found along the roadside should never be used for culinary purposes, even if they were never sprayed. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service notes automobile exhaust can pollute rose petals to the point of being unsafe to consume. If you can’t grow your own organic roses, try to find a store that sells roses grown specifically for food purposes. A health food store or organic grocery might know of suppliers. The Department of Horticulture at Penn State University also warns that allergic reactions are a possibility.

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