Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The Damascus Rose

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Agriculture, Nature, Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

The Damascus Rose and its various products are new to me. They are the subject of a recent essay (see below). 

The "Damascus Rose, a two-meter tall hybrid with the botanical name Rosa x damascena ... was born by chance" writes Tristan Rutherford, "on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border an estimated 7,000 years ago. Following that last Ice Age, Rosa gallica--one of Rosa x damascena's three parent species was blown east to Central Asia. Rosa fedschenkoana--and even rarer species--migrated north over the Himalayas as the climate warmed. Here Rosa gallica and Rosa fedschenkoana met a wild Himalayan rose, Rosa moschata, and together they produce a hybrid--indicated by the 'x' in its scientific name that produced a uniquely fragrant perfume."

The essay traces the long history of distilling, early stone presses, medicinal uses of rose water (relief of menstrual cramps and use in childbirth where it serves as a muscle relaxant), the rose's latest cultural home of Bulgaria (with a map), introduces a "new museum dedicated to the history of roses (Kazanlak Rose Museum) and some of the displays, to some of the farmers and harvesters (3000 Kg or about 6614 pounds of rose petals are required to distill a single kilogram of rose oil; a good picker can pick 100 Kg (~220 pounds) of buds per day and is paid about 50 cents U.S.), the rose queen event (dating from 1903) in Kazanlak, the current effects of climate change on the growing season, and the business side of their growing and harvesting.  As usual the essay is lavishly illustrated.

Here are three quotes that I liked.

--"In the middle of the Valley of Roses, rows of Rosa x damascena shrubs are marked with labels in Crylilic script that translate 'experience' and 'control'."

--The main fear of Filip Lissicharove, "president of the distillery for Bulgaria's leading rose oil explorer" is that young people who learn rose picking from their parents have a telephone in their pocket with Instagram. My question is: Will roses become part of their family tradition like their grandparents? This isn't like working in a gas station. It's not a business, it's our life'."
--"By mid-morning giant sacks will be rushed to tractor to Valley of Roses's seven large distilleries...."

"The Long Wandering of the Damascus Rose" by Tristan Rutherford, photographed by Rebecca Marshall, Aramco World - November / December 2022 may be read on-line.
I'm glad it wandered my way or that I wandered its way.
Another gift of the planet's ice age history, biodiversity, society and culture.

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