Like the lotus in the east, the rose in the west is the preeminent floral symbol. It is, by far and away, the most popular flower used in tattoo artwork (not to mention poetry, flower shop arrangements, and gardens). That prevalence is directly related to its power as a symbol. With their typical deep red color, they have historically been linked with blood and so also life. In fact, for the ancient Greeks, the first red roses were thought to have grown from the blood of Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, also beginning one of the most traditional associations of the red rose used today — love and beauty. Often in tattoos, the rose appears solo, as the complete design. At other times it is embellished with leaves, a long stem, and even thorns. Also, as in real life, other colors of the rose might appear, each with their own symbolic meaning: pink for grace and gentility, white for innocence and purity, yellow for friendship, and even black for death.
Perhaps the most famous of the non-red roses is the “Yellow Rose of Texas”, which is not a rose at all, but instead a person. Immortalized in the 1800s folksong of the same name, the yellow rose is actually a young woman of mixed ethnic background, missed by her roving sweetheart. Likewise, the black rose, tragic in its dark beauty, is not always the symbol of death and farewell that it has often become in the west (where black is frequently associated with death). The Irish song “Little Black Rose” originated during a time of ongoing battle with the English and was sung as long ago as the 1600s. In this same rebellious vein, the black rose has been adopted by many anarchist and antiauthoritarian groups. Predominantly, though, the rose tattoo is a richly shaded red one. With its delicate but full petals, opening fully as it matures, it has become a tattoo symbol that is synonymous with beauty, deep affection, and ultimately life.