Examining Blue Winter Roses
Blue Winter Roses are consistently associated with Lyanna Stark, only daughter of Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell throughout the story. Rhaegar crowned her with these roses as his “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the Tourney of Harrenhall, in The Year of the False Spring (towards the end of the year 281 AC).
Roses are associated with love and we know that Lyanna was very fond of this particular type of rose. It makes sense that a man with designs on a woman would present her with roses or indeed with her favourite flower.
However: could it be that blue winter roses convey some other information as well? Could the symbolism of the blue rose have several layers?
By examining Blue Winter Roses we possibly gain an insight into the events that took place at Harrenhall. This essay attempts to answer some questions the reader might have concerning these particular flowers.
Many questions come to mind when I think of Blue Winter Roses:
- Why did the GRRM choose blue roses over red, white or yellow roses?
- How might the blue colouring have been achieved by gardeners in the glass gardens at Winterfell?
Let us explore questions one and two:
1. Why did the GRRM choose blue roses over red, white or yellow roses?
Blue roses do not exist in nature. In the real world, the colour is only achieved by artificial means: dying white roses is one reliable way of creating blue roses. “True” blue roses were first cultivated via genetic engineering in 2004.
Roses find a natural habitat in Westeros. We know that the coat of arms of House Tyrell of Highgarden depicts a golden rose on a field of green and that roses grow in the gardens of Highgarden.
Blue winter roses are said to grow in the glass gardens of Winterfell are described as rare and precious:
Ygritte tells Jon the tale of Bael the Bard and here we learn a bit more about blue winter roses:
All I ask is a flower,” Bael answered, “the fairest flower that bloom in the gardens o’ Winterfell.” Now as it happened the winter roses had only then come into bloom, and no flower is so rare nor precious. ACOK Jon VI
It appears that GRRM wanted the flower to stand out, hence the blue colouring and he selects roses over other flowers because these are associated with love and romance. Characters in the books associate BWR with Lyanna. Blue roses also give off a sweet smell.
2. How might the blue colouring have been achieved by gardeners in the glass gardens at Winterfell?
BWR are very rare and precious. They obviously don’t grow all over the place. In fact with the exception of the “blue flower growing in a chink in the wall” in Dany’s vision, they are not mentioned to grow anywhere other than in the glass gardens of Winterfell. That would make them very rare indeed. Winter roses suggest that they grow in cold environments such as the north or are best cultivated in a cold environment, perhaps within a particular temperature range but the glass gardens are said to be as hot as the hottest day in summer. The colour blue suggests special treatment or a special method of cultivation. In any case, these environmental conditions can be created artificially in a greenhouse (glass house).
I found this rather intriguing and so conducted some research on blue roses and possible other flowers or plants that could have served as a model for this species.
This is what I came up with:
- Blue colouring is achieved by dying white flowers. This involves methods such as injecting blue dye into the bark of the roots.
- Much more interesting and more relevant to the story is the process of colouring leaves by the process of photoperiodism. Perhaps GRRM modelled his BWR on Euphorbia pulcherrima, popularly known as Poinsettia or the Christmas Eve Flower.
What is Photoperiodism?
Poinsettia plants bear dark green leaves with a central flaming red flower. These “flowers” are actually leaves called bracts. Several colours are possible: orange, cream, white, pink or pale green. The colours of the bracts are created through photoperiodism. In this method, the plant requires at least 12 hours of continuous darkness each day for 5 days in a row in order for the bracts to change colour. A bright red colour is achieved by exposing the plant to abundant sunlight during the day.
Most importantly, absolute darkness is required to achieve the “alien” colouring. The slightest intrusion of light (passing cars, light under a door etc.) will ruin the process. Poinsettia are cultivated in greenhouses and are covered during the night phase to ensure complete darkness. This means the plant requires a dark phase to initiate development of a colour it would otherwise not produce. In view of this, it’s interesting that the Stark daughter who was kidnapped by Bael the Bard spent a whole year in the darkness of the Crypts of Winterfell, where she brought forth a son before returning to her family.
Could the gardeners of the glass gardens at Winterfell have employed a similar method to create blue winter roses? They certainly could have established and maintained an environment suitable for cultivation of these rare and precious flowers.
Photoperiodism, with its dark and light phases echos the theme of unnaturally long seasons (long dark winters and long summers) in the story.
Let’s investigate the plant’s scientific name: Euphorbia pulcherrima
Since I speak German, I switch between German and English pages while researching and surprisingly came up with this:
Poinsettia belongs to the genus Euphorbia. In German the Euphorbia genus is known as “Wolfsmilch”, which translates to Wolf’s milk in English. To complete the name – pulcherrima is Latin for most beautiful / loveliest / fairest.
So we have a flower produced under special environmental conditions with a name directly referencing the Starks and beauty. Wolf’s milk suggests a female wolf –
Euphorbia pulcherrima – the loveliest she-wolf.
Also of note:
The Christmas Eve Star
The star-shaped leaf pattern exhibited by Poinsettia is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.
This may or may not have any deeper meaning but the Star of Bethlehem and the blood sacrifice do bring to mind certain events in ASOIAF (the Red Comet and Dany’s sacrifice of her son). Of course there is also the matter of Jon’s assassination and the notion that this may really represent the sacrifice that turns him into the saviour we expect him to be.
This brings to mind the Greek legend of Remus and Romulus, the twin babies (sons of a king) who were left on the banks of the Tiber to die and were subsequently found and suckled by a she-wolf. The twins were eventually fostered by a shepherd and remained ignorant of their true identity for many years. Romulus went on to kill Remus and to is believed to have founded the city of Rome.
Romulus and Remus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus
The search for the true meaning behind Blue Winter Roses is not over – find out more in “Frozen fire and the genetic significance of blue winter roses“. Jon Snow is Frozen Fire made flesh.