The rose species are endemic to the Northern Hemisphere of the globe only. Fossil evidence from 35 million years ago (the Oligocene epoch) tell us that some rose species did exist at that time. The fossil specimens found most closely resemble the still extant species, R. nutkana, and R. palustris.
In more recent times, the English archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) discovered in the tombs of Hawara, Egypt, wreaths made of flowers, among them, roses! The wreaths date to about AD 170, and represent the oldest preserved record of a rose species still living. It is believed that the specimens are Rosa X richardii, also known as Rosa sancta.
There are some examples in Crete at Knossos, of Frescoes dating to c. 1700BC, illustrating a rose with single, five-petalled pink blooms. In Mesopotamia, there have been discoveries of Cuneiform tablets which repeatedly use the word, "amurdinnu", which is thought to mean 'bramble', or 'wild rose'. The historical records of the genus Rosa are rich and many, illustrating that many ancient cultures valued these shrubs as we do now. Its nice to know that the simplicity of the species appealed to the world's cultures all those thousands of years ago.
The actual number of species still in existence is unclear, as a number of the "wild roses" found may only be sub-varieties of a given species. There is also a certain amount of naturally occurring hybridization between species which also tends to obscures the facts. Whatever the case may be, there are some very garden-worthy roses within the species of the genus.
Original photographs and site content © Paul Barden 2006