Modern Roses

Introduction to Modern Roses

Hybrid Teas, Floribundas and Grandifloras are the common roses of the 20th century. Their forebears – the Old Roses Faqs – have been ardently covered in the FAQ for Old Roses written by Brent Dickerson. He explains how the Hybrid Perpetuals became the direct antecedents of our Modern Roses. They were the results of crosses of the European Roses and the Chinas, Teas, European and Meditteranean types, and various species roses during the 1700’s and 1800’s. The interest of the breeders and the general public was for roses that bloomed recurrently (again and again during the season) and were hardy enough to withstand winters in Southern and Middle Europe (and England). They were usually white, pink, red, buff, purple, spotted, striped or blends of two colors.

Hybrid Teas are the roses we usually see at the florist shop. They are the classic image of the rose. The large blooms (up to 6″ across!) are produced all season long, usually one bloom per stem on stems long enough for cutting. They usually last awhile when cut for the house, and can be conditioned to last for an entire weekend of adverse conditions at a rose show. The bloom elegantly unfolds, having a pointed center, with the petals spiralling out in layers as the bud opens. The bloom is at its “artistic best” when it is 1/2 to 3/4 open, with the tight center still closed, the petals furling out and the bloom looking dewy fresh and full of life. Colors are whites, pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, russets, mauves, all shades that blend into each other, bicolors with one color on the inside and one color on the outside of the petal, striped, some can be spotted or freckled, and one color “splashed” with another on the edges of the petal. Hybrid Teas began appearing in the late 1860’s and “took over” as the rose to have in the garden.

Floribundas are a hardy, bushier rose, with smaller blooms that usually come in clusters. The blooms can be shaped like the Hybrid Tea or like the Old Roses – high centered, dished, or cupped, sometimes like a pompon. There are some Floribundas that yield one bloom per stem but generally they form clusters of florets, making them ideal for landscape use. They also come in the larger color range of the Hybrid Teas. The breeding of Floribundas began in the 1920’s with crosses of Hybrid Teas and Polyanthas, a smallish, cluster-flowered rose with wiry stems. ‘Mlle. Cecile Brunner’ is an example of a Polyantha, as is ‘Margo Koster’.

Grandifloras are the result of crosses between Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. The plant breeders were seeking larger blooms on a bush that would yield both one bloom per stem and also set clusters of florets on long stems for cutting. Grandifloras inherited the best traits of their parents. They got form and stem length from the Hybrid Teas, and large, vigorous, repetitive blooms from the Floribundas.

How We Got Where We Are

The early crosses between Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals, Chinas and Bourbons, Gallicas and Albas brought us the culmination in the 1840’s of the hybridizing efforts of the Victorian plant breeders – the Hybrid Perpetuals, the darlings of the Victorian garden. These crosses combined the balance, elegance and perpetual flowering characteristics of the tender Teas and Chinas with the robustness and profuse flowering characteristics of the European roses, themselves products of crosses between Portlands, Chinas, Damasks, Gallicas and Bourbons.

Intense competitions sprang up between various rose breeders and garden factions and the idea of rose shows and exhibiting one rose against another took hold. Regulatory bodies were formed to set forth form and procedure for these competitions, and a “competition standard” for each type of rose was soon forthcoming.

Breeding experiments continued in the search for a hardier repeat-blooming rose and the search for an intense yellow color in the large-flowered roses. Alas for the Modern Roses – although many admirable characteristics can be found in the genes passed on by the older roses, various weaknesses and susceptibilities were also bred into the new roses. Some traits predominate, some are masked. If you look at a modern rosebush today, you will see traces of its ancestry in the way the leaflets set on the stem, the curve and color of the prickles, leaf color and shape, the habit of growth (tall and lanky like some of the Damasks, squat and very shrubby like the Rugosas), even the “signature” of its fragrance – lemony, citrine, “old rose” and damp tea. As with all hybrids, some are extemely tough and enduring, some are fragile and weak. They grow, they bloom, they make us happy.

We don’t apologize for the way Modern Roses have turned out – they are children of the attempts of humans to bend nature to their own will. Roses are lovely – old ones, new ones, “throwbacks,” and foundlings. They all deserve a chance to show us their own special beauty. We submit the following notes as a starting point for those interested in the Modern Roses. We also hope that those interested will check out the books listed at the end of this FAQ for more detail on the subject.

Hybrid Teas

Breeders during the last third of the 19th century were all trying to bring a “different” rose to the buying public. One that was shaplier, had a different color or shading, had a better garden habit, could win those rose competitions and bring fame to their ventures.

Hybridizers of the day crossed all kinds of roses with the reigning Hybrid Perpetuals, looking for that elusive “something” to gain the advantage. They didn’t keep very accurate breeding records (some still don’t) so often parentage of the earliest Modern Roses is in doubt. There were many interesting roses developed in this way, all considered at the time to be just another Hybrid Perpetual or Hybrid Bourbon. But slowly a number of characteristics were being pulled together into a fairly recognizable “look” for these new roses – soon to be given the name of Hybrid Tea.

The “first” Hybrid Tea is generally said to be ‘La France’, raised by Giullot in 1867. It was an accidental discovery in the field by a man who was trying his best to develop a bright yellow large-flowered rose. It had long, pointed buds, silvery-pink blooms with a bright pink on the outer side of it’s 60 petals, was quite fragrant, and the bloom was large for the time – almost 5 inches across when fully open. Not very spectacular today, but a knockout in its day. The high, pointed bud and the slow unfurling of the spiraled petals was a presage of things to come.

Hybrid Tea roses gained popularity because of their dramatic look: a long stem for easy viewing and cutting, the prominent pointed center of the unfurling bud, a smaller bush and the repeat blooming characteristics desired by the average gardener. Even small city gardens could have a few Hybrid Tea bushes.

Early Hybrid Teas: ‘Captain Christy’, ‘Jean Sisley’,
‘Duke of Connaught’, ‘Grand-Duc Adolphe de Luxembourg’,
‘Viscountess Folkestone’, ‘Mme. Caroline Testout’,
‘Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria’, ‘Antoine Rivoire’,
‘Viscountess Falmouth’.


These roses, descended from Polyantha and Hybrid Tea crosses were first developed in Holland by the Poulsen family in 1911. The name means ‘flowering in abundance’ and true to their name, the Floribundas are cluster-bloomers rather than one-bloom-per-stem like their Hybrid Tea parents.

bloom throughout the season, with heavy sprays of richly colored blooms. The blooms may be high-centered like a Hybrid Tea or cupped, dished, or pompom-shaped. The bush is usually shorter and sturdier than the Hybrid Tea (exceptions exist!).

These roses are considered excellent for massed color effects and are often referred to as “landscape” roses. They are often used for living hedges, borders, foundation covers, and to create mounds of color in the garden.

They tend to re‑bloom faster than the average Hybrid Tea, are somewhat hardier, and put up with a lot of neglect.

Floribundas: ‘Charisma’, ‘Europeana’, ‘Margaret Merrill’,
‘Sue Lawley’, ‘Priscilla Burton’, ‘Intrigue’, ‘Brass Band’,
‘Sun Flare’.


The Grandiflora is a “manufactured” class – the class was invented for the rose ‘Queen Elizabeth’, introduced in 1954 by Germain’s Nursery in the USA. This rose was a cross of ‘Charlotte Armstrong’, a Hybrid Tea, and ‘Floradora’, a Floribunda. This rose is representative of the attempts at that time to produce a “different” rose (a mere 100 years after the first Hybrid Tea appeared) that would have the characteristic long stems, large beautiful blooms and pointed buds of the Hybrid Teas with the hardiness and flower clusters of the shrubbier Floribundas.

Grandifloras have a tendency to grow quite tall and produce full, large flowers. They come one to a stem as well as in clusters. The gangly growth habit is emniscent of their Tea heritage. The individual florets are larger than the standard for Floribundas yet not usually as large as the huge blooms of the Hybrid Teas.

United States recognizes this type of rose as a separate class in rose competitions while the International rose community lumps them in with the Hybrid Teas and often refer to the whole bunch of them as ‘large-flowered modern roses’.

Grandifloras: ‘Shining Hour’, ‘Queen Elizabeth’, ‘Sundowner’,
‘Prima Donna’, ‘John S. Armstrong’, ‘Lady Luck’,
‘Tournament of Roses’, ‘Gold Medal’, ‘Camelot’, ‘Ole’, ‘Sonia’, ‘Love’.


Before the Modern Roses, yellow was only known color in some of the old species roses and a dull, muted tone was showing up in some of the Tea/China crosses. Pernet‑Ducher and others worked at crossing ‘R. foetida persiana’ (‘Persian Yellow’} with Hybrid Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals and eventually they achieved true yellow roses. They also passed on R. foetida’s susceptibility to blackspot. Since they were growing these roses in France where (at the time) blackspot was largely unknown, they were unaware of the problem. We are very aware of it these days, both in our Modern Roses and in many of the Old Roses. After all, that’s where Modern Roses came from!

Current Questions/Activities in Modern Roses

Hardiness – R. wichuraiana crosses were made to introduce hardiness into the modern roses like Hybrid Teas. The first attempts were made by the Brownells of Rhode Island. Further work has been done by Kordes and Tantau in Germany. Buck (Central U.S.A.) has made progress, as has the Morden program (Canada).

Colors – Truly, roses are still evolving. The hand of man is pushing this lovely flower in ever‑stranger permutations. After all, now we are pursuing the “true blue” rose!! Manipulation of the genes for color is being attempted, with some progress, along the front of isolating the blue color from some species and introducing it into others. Only time will tell.

The Black Rose, on the other hand, may always emain an enigma. How many flowers do we have in Nature that are truly Black? We call deep red, deep chocolate, deep purple and deep violet tones ‘black’. So far, the only Black Rose has been the product of chemical manipulation (dyes) and fervent imagination – but, who knows? This barrier may also crumble before the need for an “unusual” rose!

American Rose Society
P.O. Box 30,000
Shreveport, LA 71130

Canadian Rose Society
Mrs. Anne Graber, Secr.
10 Fairfax Cr.
Scarborough, Ont M1L 1Z8

The Royal National Rose Society
Chiswell Green
St. Albans, Herts. AL2 3NR

La Societe Francaise des Roses
Parc de la Tete d’Or
69459 Lyon

Verein Deutscher Rosenfreunde
Mainaustrasse 198A
775A Konstanz

“The American Rose Magazine”
The American Rose Society
P.O. Box 30,000
Shreveport, LA 71130-0300

“Roses”, by Peter Beales. Harvill, 1992.