Friday, February 22, 2008

Apple #299: Roses

A while ago, a friend of mine asked me what is my favorite flower. I had never thought about that before, but the first answer that came to mind was roses. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that's true.

I think that usually, the plant itself isn't all that attractive. All stem & thorn. But the flower, to my eye, is the king of flowers. Such an abundance of petals! And they overlap in one of those mysterious natural patterns that seems random but at the same time makes perfect sense. As the rose blooms, it seems as though more and more petals appear, and the color becomes even more lush.

And if the rose has a fragrance, hold the phone and hang up your hat, it's all over, nothing else compares.

Lately I've been encountering roses here and there. I'm reading The Age of Innocence, and Newland Archer keeps giving yellow roses to the mysteriously captivating Countess Olenska.

I imagine that the roses Archer keeps buying look something like these.
(Photo from Cards by Tom, where you can order cards made with photos of roses)

I also considered buying myself some roses from the grocery store after Valentine's Day. But the only ones they had left were a strange lavender color, and that didn't seem right at all. So I got tulips instead. But the tulips turned out to have an odd, pungent fragrance. So every time Newland Archer gives Countess Olenska more yellow roses, I am jealous.

Because they're on my mind, I thought it would be nice to know more about roses.

Sheila's Perfume is a Floribunda (Modern Rose), first introduced in 1985.
(Photo from The Gardens of Petersonville)

  • Fragrance is a recessive gene in roses, so it's very hard, even if one is especially knowledgeable about hybridizing roses, to grow a new kind of rose with an intense scent.
  • A rose researcher named James Gamble studied over 3,000 Hybrid Tea roses. He found that about 20% were intensely fragrant, 25% had little or no fragrance, and the rest fell somewhere in between.
  • This distribution of the amount of fragrance is typical of the natural occurrence of fragrance in roses.
  • In fact, developing a new rose with fragrance is so notable that the American Rose Society gives an award (called the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award) specifically to someone who is able to make a new fragrant rose. They've been giving the award since 1961, but some years, no award is given.
  • The most recent James Gamble award went to Jack E. Christensen who grew the Fragrant Plum in 2007.

A Fragrant Plum. It has a strong, fruity fragrance, and its blooms are mauve (a cross between pink and purple).
(Photo from Noteworthy Fragrances)

  • Hybridizing roses is not a new activity. In fact, most roses, even those that date back to the 1800's and before are actually hybrids.
  • Roses are categorized depending on whether they are wild or cultivated. Among cultivated roses, they are grouped according to when they were hybridized. The three categories are:
      • Species (wild)
          • Cherokee Roses are one of the five species included in this category. Others in this category include Dog Roses, Gallic Roses, French Roses, and Redleaf Roses. It's hard to find photos of these.
      • Old Garden Roses -- in existence before 1867, when the first Hybrid Tea rose was introduced
          • Includes 21 species. Favorites in this category include Tea, Damask, Bourbon, Alba, and Noisette.
      • Modern Roses -- introduced after 1867.
          • Favorites in this group include Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Shrub.

The Reine Victoria is a Bourbon rose, one of the types of Old Garden Roses. This was first introduced in France in 1872. It has a lush fragrance and is a repeat bloomer.
(Available from Beeches Nursery in the UK.)

  • People still love to cross-pollinate and create new roses. In 2007, roughly 3400 new types of roses were introduced.
  • Some people spend years hybridizing to achieve a single, desired result. One Crested Moss rose took its grower over 30 years to develop.
  • Despite the plethora of roses that have been hybridized, no one has been able to grow a rose that is actually blue or black. You might be able to find a rose that has been dyed to one of these colors, but no one has been able to get one to grow that way on its own.

Mister Lincoln, a variety of Hybrid Tea roses, is another James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award-winner, from 2003.
(Photo from Curtis Pyle Nursery)

  • I had always thought the first roses showed up some time in the Middle Ages when the Knights and Crusaders were running around with roses from their ladies. But roses were grown and loved for centuries before that.
      • Roman soldiers returning victorious from battle would be welcomed, not with confetti, but with thousands of rose petals.
      • Roses, associated with the goddess Venus and her emissary Cupid, also indicated secrecy. Wealthy Romans decorated their ceilings with roses so that guests would know they were supposed to keep secret what they had heard at dinner. The phrase "sub rosa" or "under the roses" comes from this practice and to this day is used to mean that something is to be done confidentially.

The Autumn Damask is an Old Garden Rose highly prized by the Romans, who used this variety to make scents. Sometimes it's also called the Rose of Castile.
(Photo from Old Garden Roses and Beyond)

      • Roses and rose oils have been found in tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.
      • The first cultivated roses were grown in China. (Again, I wonder, what didn't originate in China?)
      • Fossilized rose petals and rose hips have been found that date back 35 million years.
  • The Chinese were hybridizing roses for two thousand years before the practice caught on in Europe in the 1500s.
  • In the late 1700s, as more Europeans were exploring countries around the world and bringing stuff back in their ships, they started bringing rose bushes back from China, too.
  • The Chinese roses didn't just bloom once, they bloomed again and again (the phrase for this characteristic is repeat flowering). And the Chinese roses were red and yellow, while the European roses were mainly pink or white or magenta.
  • The Europeans were thrilled by all these new and exciting roses, and they started cross-pollinating the Chinese roses with the European ones, and a huge batch of new roses were introduced.
  • When Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, the Empress Josephine, decided to start a rose garden with every single variety of rose in the world, all sorts of roses were shipped to her from China. It didn't matter that Europe was in the middle of the enormous and bloody Napoleonic wars, she got her roses. Because of her, growing roses became a very "in" thing to do, and people started hybridizing like crazy, especially in France.
  • Then in 1867, the first Hybrid Tea rose was introduced. This is considered a watershed in rose hybrids, and it marks the turning-point from Old Garden Roses to Modern Roses.

La France is generally considered to be the first Hybrid Tea rose. With a silvery pink color, this repeat-flowering rose also has an exceptional fragrance. Each bloom has around 60 petals.
(Photo from Country Garden Roses)

  • Tea roses, by the way, are so-called because their fragrance is said to remind one of a freshly-opened package of the choicest tea. Their shapes are also considered to be the pinnacle of form. Their colors may run the gamut from white to yellows to pinks and reds, but the most prized usually have the colors of the dawn: pale yellow, orange, blush, light pink.
  • Recently, people have been hybridizing to try to recapture some of the characteristics of roses from before 1867. For example, some people are trying for the shape and fragrance of Old Garden Roses but they also want to them to be disease-resistant.

The Peace rose, first grown in 1945 in France to commemorate the Allied invasion, was chosen for the World's Rose Hall of Fame in 1976. I remember when my mom got a couple of Peace rose bushes, and it was probably around that time.
(Photo from Wikipedia's page in French on the Peace rose grown by Madame A. Meilland)

They're just spectacular, aren't they?

Rose in Balboa Park, California.
(Photo from, a collection of public domain photos)

You can find more photos of roses at Yvonne's page of her favorite roses. One after another, they're all really beautiful -- and she grew each one herself. They're alphabetical by rose name. Bob Bauer's Pictures of Roses also has some lovely photos.

Edit: I went to a rose garden recently (2011) and took a lot of photos of roses. Thought I'd share some of them with you here.

Marina, which was smaller than it looks here, the petals tightly packed. This is a Floribunda introduced in 1974.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Meet Lynn Anderson, the rose. It's a Hybrid Tea introduced in 1993.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Proud Mary, the rose. The petals on this one are looser than the usual rose petals. I had trouble finding out much about this, other than that it's a Hybrid Tea.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This yellow rose is called Strike It Rich. It's a Grandiflora, and the bush stood pretty tall. I'm not sure when it was introduced, but it won the AARS award in 2007.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Early Morn, which is a Hybrid Tea, first grown in 1944.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Pretty magnificent.

Lois Ann Hegelson, "Fragrance in Roses," American Rose Society
James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award, American Rose Society
Classification of Roses, American Rose Society
Carol Quin, "The Rose Through Time,"
Coastal Grower, Winter 1997-1998, republished at the Old Rose Nursery
The Rose: From Ancient China to Your Backyard, The History of Roses, Flowers Australia
Bob Bauer's Roses and Everything About Them, There Are No Blue or Black Roses
Tea Roses, Old Garden Roses and Beyond
Help Me Find - Roses -- searchable catalog of over 31,000 varieties of roses
Rose Hybridizers Association offers lots of tips on how to hybridize


  1. One of the nice things about our house is that the previous owners left us an abundance of roses, all around the house, and though I don't know what kinds they are there is a wide variety (red, white, yellow, purple, combination orange/yellow). I've been amazed at how hardy they are, since we're not particularly attentive to taking care of them. And they bloom a lot, at seemingly random times of the year.

  2. That is a nice gift from the previous owners. I bet whoever planted your roses chose certain varieties that would flourish in your climate. And it sounds like your gardener chose many repeat bloomers.

    Something else I learned while reading about roses is that different varieties bloom not just at different times of year, but also at different times of DAY. And it all depends on what the plant's pollinator is -- bees, ants, wind, etc.

  3. Um, you forgot one variety of rose. England's Rose, Princess Diana

  4. Jarred, I'm not entirely sure how to read your comment. Perhaps you are making a metaphor, not realizing that there really is a rose named after Princess Diana? I didn't know there was one until I was preparing this entry.

    But if you are referring to the actual rose, yes, that is another beautiful variety. The official name is the Diana, Princess of Wales rose (see

    There are so many varieties of roses (3,400 new ones in 2007 alone), I had to make some tough but necessary choices.

  5. Mark said it jokingly.....but we had no idea that there was an actual rose named after her! He said there's also a Dolly Parton rose. And, Mable Ringling, husband of circus guy John Ringling, was a rose enthusiast. She started the Sarasota Garden Club in the 1920s. :)

  6. Yes, there's a rose named for just about everybody. There's one called Chris Evert, and another one called Betty White. You get the idea.

  7. You won't believe the very long list of roses named after famous people! To view the list look here:
    You'll also see plenty of pictures of beautiful roses on the site!


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