Old Roses FAQs

Written by Brent C. Dickerson odinthor@csulb.edu,
author, “The Old Rose Advisor” (FAQ compiled October-November, 1994)

  • Introduction and General History


    The Hybrid Tea Roses, accompanied at length by the Floribunda and Grandiflora Roses so influenced by them, have been at the fore of rose progress for about a century now – so long that its forebears and predecessors have become, to many rosarians, mere footnotes rather than what they should be, valid candidates for equal interest.

    The modern “English Roses” by David Austin (modeled on the past; covered in another FAQ) and the ever-increasing groundswell of interest in old roses proper perhaps make it desirable for all rosarian netlings to gain some quick familiarity with the heritage of the rose. We therefore present the following thumbnail notes as something of a starting point, hoping that wiser heads will supply the necessary corrections or variant information, and hoping as well that those interested in more detail will check out the many fine books which deal with this at greater length. Some of these books are listed at the end of this FAQ.

    General History

    Various wild roses grow throughout the Northern Hemisphere in sites ranging from riparian and swampy all the way to those of the desert. Two geographical groupings which, at first, developed separately, have had – both in their separation and in their ultimate combination – the greatest importance in rose history: The European/Mediterranean group of species and their hybrids, and the Oriental group of species and their hybrids.

    The European roses are primarily the following: Gallicas, Albas, Damasks, Damask Perpetuals, Centifolias, and Mosses. The mainstream Oriental groups are Chinas and Teas. The European sorts – with one important exception – have only one season of bloom per year, while the Orientals repeat bloom more or less continuously.

    The European/Mediterranean roses or their forebears have been grown and loved since the earliest days of history (and no doubt before). Wreaths of Damask-like roses have been found in Egyptian tombs; seemingly the same rose – called at one time “Rosa sancta” (the Holy Rose) – has been grown down to our own days in holy places in eastern Africa. Frescoes painted during the heyday of the Minoan culture on Crete show roses. The festivals both sacred and profane of the classical Greeks included roses, and did those of the Romans. During the Roman era, a repeat-blooming variant of the Damask rose evidently appeared, the first member of a group which came to be called “Damask Perpetuals.” The Romans were so sophisticated that they developed a hot-house technology which allowed them to “force” roses into more bloom; they also imported roses from Egypt. The roses of these most ancient times in Europe and the Mediterranean were seemingly the Damasks, the Albas, and the Gallicas.

    During the Middle Ages, these roses retained a certain religious use, not only as decorations and adjuncts to (now Christian) holy festivals, but also as denizens of the medicinal gardens. Their medicinal associations as well as the simple human delight in their fragrance brought about the distillation-of-rose-essence industry, which still has local importance in a few areas of Europe (formerly France, now primarily Bulgaria).

    With the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of the merchant class, commerce in horticultural material began to flourish. Due to their fleet of trading ships and the peculiarities of their geography, the Netherlands became (and continue) a great center of horticultural business. Alongside their trade in Tulips, Hyacinths, Carnations, and the like, came something new in Occidental rose progress: systematic growing of roses from seed (previously, roses had primarily been propagated from cuttings, suckers, runners, and possibly to a small degree by grafts). This opened up the possibility inherent in sexual reproduction: Variation. One of the great holes in knowledge of rose history concerns what roses they used in this, and how they went about it – but, at any rate, whereas previously only some tens of rose cultivars existed, now, in the period up to about 1810, one or two hundred became available, indeed a whole new group, the Centifolias, arising from the complex and possibly arbitrary breeding of the Dutch.

    Around 1800, the French became interested in roses and the rose industry. This interest was fueled by the French Empress Josephine, who surrounded herself with adepts in all fields of interest to her – one was Botany – while she consoled herself at the palace of Malmaison over her divorce from her beloved Napoleon. At this palace, she collected all the available sorts of roses, and encouraged the breeding and hybridizing of new ones. Spurred by this imperial patronage, several French breeders – notably Dupont and Descemet – went to work with a vengeance, developing several hundred new cultivars in the European groups (Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias… ). Descemet indeed very carefully kept notes of the results of particular crosses, and may be said to have been the first in the West to have practiced controlled cross-breeding. We must turn, however, to the Orient for a moment, leaving Europe in the throes of Napoleonic war and rose-breeding. There is alas little information on Oriental – or, more specifically, Chinese – rose breeding. One finds indications that roses were favored, though perhaps not to the extent that the Peony, the Chrysanthemum, or the Camellia were. What is important to note, however, is that by the period 1750-1824, four cultivars in particular – often called today (rather rustically) “The Four Stud Chinas” – had been developed. Two were true China roses, one pink, one red. Two were Tea roses, one blush, one yellowish. These were continuous-blooming, as the Oriental roses were, but not hardy, and their introduction into the Occident at length completely revolutionized rose progress.

    The French, though their Emperor had fallen and Josephine was dead, continued their efforts with both the old material and now with the new. Due to political problems, Descemet had to flee France, but an ex-soldier of Napoleon’s army, wounded in Italy, now prosperous as a hardware-shop owner, indulged his interest in roses and bought what remained of Descemet’s nursery and breeding notes after the site of the nursery was sacked by invading English troops. This was Jean-Pierre Vibert, whose intelligence and industriousness working from 1816-1850 had a lasting influence on the French rose industry.

    The crosses with the new material were made as work continued in all groups of roses. Never before the 1820’s had such a diversity of disparate roses been available – and never since. Almost every available species, no matter how obscure, had varieties and subvarieties of varying color or form due to breeding or sports. A sport of the Centifolia, the Moss Rose, had appeared a few decades before, and now began to spread its unique array of cultivars over the rose scene as the breeders worked with it.

    As the 1820’s became the 1830’s, however, interest was concentrated on the breeding between the Oriental roses and the Europeans. Due to the laws of genetics, the first progeny of crosses between once-bloomers and repeat-bloomers were once-blooming. As they were crossed with each other, however, and then back to the Chinas and Teas, repeat-blooming hybrids began to appear. These were crossed with Damask Perpetuals. The 1830’s were a time of ferment and experimentation with these.

    Meantime, on an island in the Indian Ocean (though there is some debate about this), a new cross between a China and a Damask Perpetual appeared. This was the Bourbon Rose. Its appearance at this time made it a part of the breeding going on primarily in France (though efforts were also underway in England).

    The outcome of all these crosses jelled in the 1840’s into the group called “Hybrid Perpetuals” – a name which implied to the people of the time “Damask Perpetuals which have been hybridized with Other Sorts.” This group, taking in cultivars of all colors and forms, and (best of all to the people of the era) at least somewhat re-blooming and hardy, overwhelmed almost all the other groups. Interest in the old European sorts waned; they were gradually set aside, kept mainly as sentimental remembrances of the past by a few devotees.

    The idea of rose shows and competitions was on the rise at this time. These events began for better or worse to standardize the concept of what a rose blossom should look like, and made many concentrate on the rose as a producer of exhibition items rather than a decorative plant for the garden.

    Breeding experimentation continued. The original, rather weakly-growing, Teas were crossed with Bourbons to make a new, robust sort of Tea. As the search to widen the range of Hybrid Perpetuals continued, they were crossed with the Teas producing a group which came to be known as Hybrid Teas. Efforts along these lines really got underway seriously in the 1870’s, though there had been a few earlier such crosses as well.

    But, still experimentation continued. A strong yellow rose was wanted. The Teas had light yellows among their number, but these had a tendency to fade, and the plants were not as robust as people had become accustomed to from the Hybrid Perpetuals. A deep yellow species, R. foetida, had been used to produce a Tea ‘Ma Capucine’ by the breeder Levet in 1871, but the plant was weak-growing, discouraging further work. In the 1890’s, Pernet-Ducher turned to the problem, and, after a long series of experiments with Teas, Hybrid Teas, Hybrid Perpetuals, and (finally) R. foetida, produced offspring around 1900 from a cross of the HP ‘Antoine Ducher’ and R. foetida which had a yellow/gold/coral tone that seemed to promise much. Further developments from this cross were called “Pernetianas,” and at length they were combined with the original Hybrid Teas to produce what might be called “Hybrid Hybrid Teas” – the Hybrid Teas of today.

  • Gallica Roses

    These are selections bred from the “French Rose,” R. gallica. A Gallica will typically have a stocky plant, an open blossom which shows the stamens and is held upright, usually in colors varying on one side or the other from rose-red. Variations, however, are almost limitless as well as subtle, and all degrees of height and blossom may be found, from near singles to full doubles, from blush pinks to maroon, from clear homogeneous colors to cloudy, striped, and/or spotted blossoms. The plants are easily propagated by their runners or suckers when on their own roots. Some examples are ‘D’Aguesseau’, ‘Camaieux’, ‘Tuscany’, ‘Versicolor’.

  • Alba Roses

    As is so often the case with roses, the precise origin of the Alba group is much debated; possibly R. canina x R. damascena, or R. corymbifera x R. gallica, or …? Albas typically make large, healthy shrubs with fragrant white or light pink blossoms, usually in few-flowered clusters. They have particular associations with the Middle Ages and castle gardens. ‘Great Maiden’s Blush’, ‘Semiplena’, ‘Jeanne d’Arc’, ‘Konigin von Danemark’, ‘Pompon Blanc Parfait’.

  • Damask Roses

    Damask Roses are supposed to be from a hybridization between R. gallica and R. phoenicia which occurred in Asia Minor and became distributed throughout Syria and the Near East and Middle East generally. The Crusaders – according to tradition – brought it back to Europe from Damascus (hence the name) in 1254. However, there is a most daunting and seemingly impenetrable fog around R. damascena. References can be found to “the common Damask” as late as the 1820’s, and yet what an author is referring to by this term remains elusive. It indeed frequently seems that “the Common Damask” is rather a Damask Perpetual! Worse, cultivars which we today consider as defining the group – ‘Leda’, perhaps, and ‘Mme. Hardy’ – seem to have been hybrids. ‘Celsiana’, a most beautiful and popular rose, is possibly “typical” Damask; and yet, even it has its mystery (current research seems to indicate that the “pre-1750” date usually put forward is whimsical). Even ‘York and Lancaster’, frequently considered to be a sport of the original (red?) Damask, is supposed by one authority to be an Alba on the basis of a sporting back to something like the Alba ‘Semiplena’! The cultivar used for the rose oil industry in Bulgaria, ‘Trigintipetala’, supposedly a long-ago import from Turkey, is perhaps dependably R. damascena … . That said, characteristics associated with our concept of what a Damask should look like are: upright frequently arching canes, grayish-green somewhat rugose somewhat hirsute leaves, large fragrant blossoms in few-flowered clusters, delicate in appearance, and ranging in color from white to deep pink depending on the cultivar. ‘Ville de Bruxelles’, ‘Celsiana’, ‘Mme. Hardy’, ‘Mme. Zoetmans’, ‘Kazanlyk’.

  • Centifolia Roses

    The genetic background of the much-beloved Centifolia roses is also much debated. Some have reported wild Centifolias from various sites in Europe and Asia, others try to piece together mosaics of species to make the Centifolia a complex hybrid. They were much featured in the paintings of the Dutch masters. Typically, a mature Centifolia will be 4-5 feet high, leafy, and bear lush, fragrant, pink blossoms which not only nod in themselves, but which also frequently cause the plant’s branches to nod gracefully under their weight. Colors of various cultivars range from white to deep rose-red, and there are striped and spotted ones as well. ‘Common Centifolia’, ‘Bullata’, ‘Des Peintres’, ‘La Noblesse’, ‘Tour de Malakoff’, ‘Unica’.

  • Centifolia Mosses.

    These roses, originally a sport of the Centifolia, bear on their flower-stems and sepals a mutation of the glands making it appear as if a green or reddish-brown moss were growing there, adding a unique delicacy to the buds. In this group can be found some deep crimsons, lacking among the regular Centifolias; this is possibly due to some hybridization involving crimson China roses. ‘Common Moss’, ‘Gloire des Mousseux’, ‘William Lobb’, ‘Deuil de Paul Fontaine’, ‘Striped Moss’.

  • Centifolia Pompons.

    There are also several Centifolias which are to a greater or lesser degree miniatures or dwarfs, with small, charming blossoms. ‘De Meaux’, ‘Petite de Hollande’, ‘Spong’, ‘Little Gem’.

  • Agathe Roses

    One of the least-known groups, Agathes are seemingly complex hybrids with a very strong influence from the Damasks and possibly R. X francofurtana. They are characterized by rather compact, leafy bushes, usually bearing small to medium sized full, tight blossoms. Due to years of unfamiliarity, generations of rosarians have listed them among the Gallicas. ‘Fatime’, ‘Marie-Louise’, ‘Majestueuse’, ‘Bouquet Rose de Venus’, ‘Victorine la Couronnee’.

  • Turbinata Roses

    The Turbinatas result from a cross called R. X francofurtana (between R. gallica and R. majalis, a European species.) The main representative of this group is ‘Imperatrice Josephine’ with large foliage and big, wavy blossoms of intense pink. Turbinata roses often have some difficulty in opening their buds.

  • Rubiginosa Roses

    The Rubiginosa or Sweetbriar rose is a tall-growing rose the distinctive characteristic of which is its foliage which, particularly after a rain, wafts a green-apple scent. The blossoms of the original are single and pink or white, giving rise to coral-red hips, making quite a show in the Fall. A number of hybrids were produced in the 1890’s by Lord Penzance, much extending the color-range of the sort, at some expense to the fragrance of the foliage. ‘Clementine’, ‘Hebe’s Lip’, ‘Lord Penzance’, ‘Amy Robsart’, ‘Greenmantle’.

  • Canina Roses.

    The Canina or Dog Rose is closely related to the above, lacking however the scented foliage. The hips were considered medicinally effective against bites from mad dogs, hence the name. The Austro-Hungarian breeder Geschwind had a great interest in R. canina due to its hardiness, and produced several hybrids in the latter part of the 19th century; others have also made sparing use of it in breeding work. ‘Una’, ‘Creme’, ‘Freya’, ‘Kiese’, ‘Theresia’.

  • Hemispherica Roses

    Will the day of R. hemispherica ever come? Or is it already past? Known since the 1600’s, R. hemispherica has much whetted the appetites of rosarians because of its deep yellow flowers, double in two varieties, its glaucous foliage, and the difficulty of its culture. It should be tried by those in dry, Mediterranean-like climates. There are only three Hemisphericas: ‘Simplex’, ‘Multiplex’, and ‘Pompon Jaune’ – the lattermost with small double blossoms, reportedly the most difficult of all.

  • Foetida Roses

    R. foetida has long attracted the attention of horticulturists and botanists because of its bright coloring, and at length entered into the mainstream by the role it played in the production of the Pernetiana roses, leading directly into the modern Hybrid Tea. The plant is a large, arching shrub. R. foetida itself is bright yellow, ‘Bicolor’ is coppery orange on the inside and yellow on the outside of the petals, ‘Persian Yellow’ is a double yellow. Several hybrids have been produced, of which the following are notable: ‘Le Reve’, ‘Star of Persia’, ‘Harison’s Yellow’. The Pernetiana group of hybrids is covered in a separate section.

  • Pimpinellifolia Roses (including Spinosissima).

    These roses are extremely hardy, have attractive foliage with various tints in the Fall, and bear sprightly single or double blossoms in most all the colors roses have, white, pink, red, yellow. Many are very compact, neat-looking bushes. ‘William III’, ‘William IV’, ‘Doorenbos Selection’, ‘Altaica’, ‘Marmorata’, ‘Sulphurea’. Three repeat-blooming cultivars were produced, hybrids with the Damask Perpetual, one of which is still with us: ‘Stanwell Perpetual’.

  • Boursault Roses

    The Boursaults are of the scandent or climbing habit, and are traditionally supposed to derive from a Napoleonic-era cross between one of the earliest Chinas and R. pendulina, an alpine rose. The blossoms are rather large, come in larger or smaller clusters, appear early, are in shades of pink and red, and sometimes re-appear later in the season. The foliage in some sorts colors well in the Fall. ‘Mme. de Sancy de Parabere’, ‘Morletii’, ‘Amadis’, ‘Calypso’.

  • Sempervirens Roses

    R. sempervirens is a climbing species from the Mediterranean area which has glossy, persistent leaves and large clusters of small white flowers. In the 1820’s particularly, several breeders undertook work with it, most notably A. Jacques, who hybridized it with China or Noisette roses to come up with a series of climbers in shades of pink to white, climbers which are still used and appreciated today. ‘Felicite et Perpetue’, ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’, ‘Flore’, ‘Dona Maria’. (The greatly popular Noisette ‘Aimee Vibert’ is also an R. sempervirens cross; it is however placed among the Noisettes because it reblooms.)

  • Setigera Roses

    R. setigera is a tough, hardy native of the American prairies, and has been used to produce a number of similarly tough and hardy climbers, first of all in the mid-19th century by several American nurserymen whose crosses with Noisettes, Gallicas, and no one knows what else, gave us the very beautiful varieties ‘Baltimore Belle’, ‘Gem of the Prairies’, ‘Eva Corinne’, ‘Queen of the Prairies’, etc. Later breeders were to add ‘Corporal Johann Nagy’, ‘Ovid’, ‘Mrs. F.F. Prentiss’, and eventually a series of modern climbers of which the best known, perhaps, is ‘Doubloons’.

  • Wichuraiana Roses

    R. wichuraiana is a wide-spreading cluster-flowered climber/groundcover rose from Japan and the Orient generally. The American Mr. Horvath – responsible for the ‘Doubloons’ just mentioned above – began hybridizing with it immediately upon its appearance in the West in the early 1890’s, crossing it with Polyanthas and Chinas. A person connected with the Barbier nurseries in France happened to visit, became interested in the results, and got the similar and highly successful Barbier crosses underway back home (though it is now thought that the closely-related R. luciae was used by the Barbiers for a number of the crosses). Many, many very meritorious ramblers from these and other breeders were introduced in the following years, some of the greatest popularity: ‘Dorothy Perkins’, ‘Evangeline’, ‘May Queen’, ‘Leontine Gervais’, ‘Aviateur Bleriot’.

  • Multiflora Roses

    Though a few Multiflora climbers had been produced early in the 19th century by such old masters as Vibert (‘De la Grifferaie’) and Laffay (‘Laure Davoust’), and others appeared now and then for the rest of the century, the main impetus towards hybridizing with the Oriental R. multiflora came with the introduction of ‘Turner’s Crimson Rambler’ in 1893. Over the next twenty-five or so years, dozens and dozens of Multiflora Ramblers – stiffer, more upright than Wichuraiana Ramblers – were released, some of them the so-called “blue” ramblers. ‘Veilchenblau’, ‘Bleu Magenta’, ‘Hiawatha’, ‘Caroubier’, ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’, ‘Tausendschon’.

  • Damask Perpetual Roses

    This group was the only repeat-blooming one known to the Europeans until the advent of the China roses. It had indeed been known seemingly in at least one variety (‘Bifera’) since Roman times. Another cultivar (‘Tous-les-Mois’) appeared in the 17th century, and breeding work in earnest began on them in the 1810’s. Vibert and his successors in his firm had a very great interest in this group, and introduced by far the greatest number of them, the last one (‘Rembrandt’) of their long-pursued line coming out in 1883. They typically have stocky, healthy, decorative bushes, with the often exquisitely double, fragrant blossoms nestling in the leaves. There are several races of them: the Biferas, with tall, arching growth; the Portlands, showing Gallica influence; the Tous-les-Mois, the typical sort, bushy and compact with tight blossoms; and the Trianons, tall, vigorous, Hybrid-Perpetual like growth with clusters of flowers. The colors range from white through all the pinks to deepest red. ‘Jacques Cartier’, ‘Yolande d’Aragon’, ‘Portland Rose’, ‘Rose du Roi’, ‘Joasine Hanet’, ‘Marbree’.

  • China Roses

    Chinas – selectively bred from R. chinensis – had been grown in Chinese gardens long before the Occident knew anything about them. The agent of their first appearance in the West is under some dispute, with claims being made for Sweden, Britain, and Italy. A pink form and a red form entered commerce in the West in the 1790’s, and breeding quickly got underway, particularly in France and, to some degree, Italy. The reasons for their quick popularity were primarily their continuous bloom and, at least initially, the then-current rage for things Oriental. Their main difficulty was their lack of cold-hardiness. Chinas typically make, bushy, twiggy plants, often quite irregular in outline, and range in color from deepest red and maroon through pink to white. Some hybridized with the Teas show warm tones of yellow, saffron, salmon, and orange. The China group has long been considered a refuge for “decoratives” as opposed to exhibition roses; cultivars of Tea parentage which did not show the blossom-form expected of Teas would be offered as Chinas. ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, ‘Parsons’ Pink China’, ‘Eugene de Beauharnais’, ‘Archiduc Charles’, ‘Ducher’, ‘Nemesis’, ‘Mme. Eugene Resal’, ‘Arethusa’, and the green rose ‘Viridiflora’.

  • Tea Roses

    Teas are so called because many discern in their blossoms the scent of “a newly-opened sample of the choicest tea”. Their supposed ancestry is R. chinensis x R. gigantea, the latter being a high-climbing Chinese rose with large primrose-colored blossoms fading quickly to white. The British introduced the first two cultivars to the West in 1810 and 1824; the French quickly began hybridizing with them. The spiralling starry form now usually associated with an unfurling rose bud derives from the Tea and, to a lesser extent, the China. Teas are considered by many aficionados to have the most exquisite form and coloration in the world of the Rose. The problem confronted by the French, however, was that the bushes producing these blossoms were frail (at least, in France and England!), and the blossoms very susceptible to damage from the weather. Some took to growing them as greenhouse plants; others tried to improve the plant by cross-breeding. Several interesting results were produced, as we shall see in other categories below. In the history of the Teas, however, the most important crosses were with the Bourbons. This began a new race of Teas, most of which were quite unlike the old ones: large, vigorous, thick-limbed shrubs, often with perfectly healthy, beautiful glossy foliage. The colors range throughout the rose palette (reds, pinks, whites, blushes, yellows, oranges), but most special to Teas are the colors of dawn: tones of gold, warm pink, and rose shading into each other, with delicate tints and highlightings. ‘Anna Olivier’, ‘Maman Cochet’, ‘Safrano’, ‘Comtesse de Labarthe’, ‘Mme. Antoine Mari’, ‘Souvenir de Therese Levet’, ‘Catherine Mermet’, ‘Etoile de Lyon’, ‘Devoniensis’, ‘Lady Hillingdon’.

  • Bourbon Roses

    Bourbon Roses are named for the Ile Bourbon, now called Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, where they traditionally are supposed to have originated from a natural cross between the China ‘Parsons’ Pink’ and the red ‘Tous-les-Mois’, a Damask Perpetual, two roses which were used as hedge material on the island. (This, however, is an area of hot dispute in almost every particular.) Seeds of this plant, and cuttings of the plant, showed up in Paris in 1819 and 1821 respectively. The way in which the virtues of its disparate parents were combined made these new roses popular, and after ten years of largely unsuccessful attempts, good new Bourbons began to come out of the breeding grounds in the 1830’s. In the best of them, vigor was combined with floriferousness, and beauty with fragrance. A typical Bourbon will have the arching growth hearkening back to its Damask ancestors, with the lush flowers and fragrance from much the same source; but it will also have a strong tendency to rebloom from the China ancestor, as well as a certain often subtle influence of the China flower form. Bourbons, however, are often not typical at all, and range from the arching growth just mentioned to the very dwarf, China-like growth of the cultivar ‘Hermosa’, indeed one of the oldest Bourbons still available (it had shown up by 1835). They range in color from deep reds through pinks to blush and white. The easygoing charms of the Bourbons have returned them to the forefront of popularity among today’s old rose people, though very few were introduced after 1900; their original heyday was the period 1830-1850. ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘Reine Victoria’, ‘Louise Odier’, ‘Gloire des Rosomanes’, ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’, ‘Acidalie’, ‘Boule de Neige’.

  • Noisette Roses

    Just after 1800, John Champneys of Charleston, South Carolina, crossed a pink China (traditionally supposed to be ‘Parsons’ Pink’) with the Musk Rose R. moschata, and obtained a large-growing shrub with clusters of lightly fragrant pink blossoms, ‘Champneys’ Pink Cluster’. A neighbor there, Philippe Noisette, planted its seeds and grew a plant which was similar but dwarfer, and which had larger clusters of doubler flowers, ‘Blush Noisette’. Philippe Noisette’s brother happened to be a major French nurseryman in Paris, and it was through this latter that the rose found commercial release around 1815. The industrious French breeders soon went to work, and within ten years, there were more than a hundred Noisettes in the catalogs in colors from white to crimson-purple. The new yellow Tea showing up about that time, it was crossed with the Noisettes, with a result which fundamentally changed the Noisette group; the blossoms became larger, the clusters smaller, and the plants more Tea-like, with an inclination towards “climbing.” The group reached its apogee or indeed apotheosis in 1853 with the release of one of the most beloved roses of all, the climber ‘Gloire de Dijon’. Further climbing Noisettes, mostly in shades of yellow or pinkish yellow, were released through the turn of the century when newer, hardier climbers of different background took the fore. The seemingly final stage of Noisettes, returning them much to their original concept of multi-flowered shrubs, was coming with the development of the Hybrid Musks (comprising crosses between Noisettes and Hybrid Teas, etc.) in the 1910’s, 1920’s, and beyond. ‘Gloire de Dijon’, ‘Desprez a Fleur Jaune’, ‘Bougainville’, ‘Chromatella’, ‘Solfatare’, ‘Marechal Niel’, ‘Aimee Vibert’, ‘William Allen Richardson’, ‘Lily Metschersky’, ‘Lamarque’.

  • Hybrid China, Hybrid Bourbon, Hybrid Noisette Roses

    These crosses between Chinas, Bourbons, Noisettes, and the old European sorts (Gallicas, etc.) were made initially as an attempt to deal with the lack of hardiness of these new sorts with R. chinensis background. The outcome was quite varied. The results are not absolutely clear, because offspring close to the, say, Gallica parent would be sold as a Gallica, and offspring close to the, say, China parent would find itself sold as a China; thus, many of these hybrids, produced in the 1820’s and 1830’s primarily, masquerade as something they are not genetically. The important thing, however, is that, due to the laws of genetics, almost the entirety of these are once-bloomers – but often blooming that one time a season with the most extreme profusion and beautiful fragrant flowers. The plants are most often climber-like and of the most extreme vigor, frequently heavily foliated. Novices and others must be careful to distinguish between (once-blooming) Hybrid Chinas and (repeat-blooming) China hybrids; (once-blooming) Hybrid Bourbons and (repeat-blooming) Bourbon hybrids; (once-blooming) Hybrid Noisettes and (repeat-blooming) Noisette hybrids. ‘George IV’, ‘Belle de Crecy’, ‘Duchesse de Montebello’, ‘Mme. Plantier’, ‘Triomphe de Laffay’, ‘Comtesse de Lacepede’, ‘Las-Cases’, ‘Malton’.

  • Hybrid Perpetual Roses

    As the breeding work continued in the late 1820’s with the Hybrid Chinas, Hybrid Bourbons, and Hybrid Noisettes, they were crossed with the hardiest re-blooming roses they had on hand, the Damask Perpetuals. Thus was born the race of Hybrid Perpetuals, which soon grew to encompass as well any re-blooming progeny of the Hybrid Chinas, etc. A first, very obscure, reblooming hybrid, ‘Hybride Remontant a Bois Lisse’, peeks at us from 1829, another eight or so show up over the next decade, and soon the floodgates opened, thousands being released over the next sixty years. They were crossed with each other and with the Bourbons and Damask Perpetuals until a nearly full range of color from blush white to deepest red and purple was obtained; only purest white and yellow eluded them for a time, spurring interesting experiments (as we shall see). Typically, a Hybrid Perpetual will have big, cabbagey blossoms at the top of a long, often arching cane. As HP’s were developed simultaneously with the rise of rose shows and competition, the forms became increasingly refined over the years from the original muddled or quartered look (now back in fashion!) to a rather fulsome version of what we might expect in a rose of today. Many HP’s show a tendency towards fungal diseases, requiring a careful program of spraying. The thrill of a garden full of big, fragrant HP’s in full bloom is something not to be forgotten; many will think of this and be quick to forgive them their often miserly rebloom. They began to fade from the scene with the advent of the Hybrid Tea. ‘Baronne Prevost’, ‘Victor Verdier’, ‘Charles Lefebvre’, ‘Jules Margottin’, ‘American Beauty’, ‘General Jacqueminot’, ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, ‘Georg Arends’, ‘Mrs. John Laing’, ‘Souvenir d’Alphonse Lavalle’, ‘Reine des Violettes’, ‘Tartarus’.

  • Old Hybrid Tea Roses

    Ah, me. Here one is, a breeder in, say, the late 1860’s, trying to breed a “different” HP among the hundreds coming out every year, one with shapely blossoms to win at shows, one that blooms more to attract those looking for garden decoration, maybe one that’s white or even yellow! The obvious answer, and one that occurred to several breeders – but most notably to Lacharme of France and Bennett of England – was to breed the Tea into the Hybrid Perpetual; they were willing to risk some loss of hardiness to gain something “different.” Though the occasional HP x T cross had been made before and released, the first long-term programs of such were made by Lacharme and Bennett. From the mid-1870’s on, others tried their hands at it increasingly; and, by the 1890’s, Hybrid Teas were replacing Hybrid Perpetuals in the gardens of “modern”-thinking rosarians. The Hybrid Teas bloomed more, were bushier, had more beautiful leaves and better-shaped flowers, and the color-range, somewhat limited in the HP’s, was extended into the warm, exotic range of the Teas; the HP’s mainly held ground where their greater hardiness made them more desirable. The problems with these new HT’s was that they were, as we just saw, more tender, and they carried with them the problem that many Teas had of nodding on the stem; further, the color range, though wide, was muted: milky whites, creamy pinks, pale coral pinks, dull rose-coloreds, no real full-bodied reds at first; worst, perhaps, they were no improvement in health. And yet . . . and yet . . . they are beautiful, delicate creatures. (Traditionalists remind me to cite ‘La France’ as “the first Hybrid Tea”; it was introduced in 1867, as a Bourbon hybrid.) ‘Captain Christy’, ‘Mme. Lacharme’, ‘Antonine Verdier’, ‘Jean Sisley’, ‘Julius Finger’, ‘Grace Darling’, ‘Viscountess Folkestone’, ‘Mme. Caroline Testout’, ‘Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria’, ‘Antoine Rivoire’, ‘Mme. Wagram, Comtesse de Turenne’.

  • Pernetiana Roses

    Though the new HT’s had definite yellow tinges from their Tea connections, Pernet-Ducher of Lyon, France, wanted to develop a deep yellow. Experimentation in the 1890’s with the difficult to breed with R. foetida at length brought a cross between it and an old purple-red HP, ‘Antoine Ducher’. From this came ‘Soleil d’Or’ of 1900, a rather difficult-to-grow plant with blossoms of a revolutionary coloration: gold/pink/saffron/etc., much more pronounced than it had ever been in the Teas. This cross and its nearer descendants were called “Pernetiana Roses” in honor of Pernet-Ducher. They are characterized by growth and health quirks associated with R. foetida (glossy leaves, die-back, fungal problems). To remedy these problems, and to satisfy what would be the natural urge, breeders began crossing these Pernetianas with the Hybrid Teas of the time, producing wild colors in oranges, hot pinks, bright yellows, flame, apricot . . . By the late 1920’s, these two races had merged to produce the Modern Hybrid Tea of today. ‘Soleil d’Or’, ‘Mme. Edouard Herriot’, ‘Los Angeles’, ‘Souvenir de Claudius Pernet’, ‘Souvenir de Georges Pernet’, ‘Willowmere’, ‘Autumn’, ‘California’, ‘Arthur R. Goodwin’, ‘Lyon-Rose’.

  • Mossy Remontants

    While the HP’s were getting underway in the 1830’s and 1840’s, another new sort of repeat-blooming rose made its appearance: the Mossy Remontant. The first one was a sport of the Damask Perpetual ‘Bifera’ in 1835; but the first one intentionally bred was released by Mauget of Orleans, France, in 1844. Over the next forty or so years, a number of Mossy Remontants were released, some quite charming indeed, though many are neither very mossy nor very remontant (reblooming). Many are close to the Damask Perpetuals in plant habit, having undoubtedly been bred from them, and make neat little bushes in the garden. Others seem to have Hybrid Perpetual relations, and grow in the gawky way of that tribe. These do better in warm climates than do the regular Mosses. Their colors range from white through pink to deep red. ‘Alfred de Dalmas’, ‘Soupert et Notting’, ‘Cesonie’, ‘Mme. Edouard Ory’, ‘Pompon Perpetuel’, ‘Salet’, ‘Deuil de Paul Fontaine’, ‘Baron de Wassenaer’.

  • Polyantha Roses

    In 1869, Guillot fils of Lyon, France, sowed seed from R. multiflora ‘Polyantha’, a large shrub introduced from Japan around 1862, with clusters of single, white, fragrant blossoms. From this, he obtained a large crop of much varied seedlings; “I didn’t have so many as two which resembled their mother!” said he. Elsewhere in Lyon, the breeder Rambaux had sown a separate crop, with similar results. Guillot fils got seeds from a semi-double in the crop, sowed these, and from this arose the first Polyantha, ‘Paquerette’, released in 1875. Alongside the “pure” Polyanthas, breeders crossed them with Teas to obtain clusters of small but perfectly-formed buds, as with ‘Mlle. Cecile Brunner’ and ‘Perle d’Or’. Polyanthas normally produce dwarfish, compact bushes ranging from one foot to three in height, bearing often immense clusters of small blossoms which can range through the whole spectrum of rose coloration. Some have a tendency towards leaflessness in the Summer. New Polyanthas continue to be bred and released in the present-day world of roses due to their unique qualities for breeding and display. They were crossed beginning in the Teens and 20’s with Hybrid Teas to produce the Floribunda group. ‘Mlle. Cecile Brunner’, ‘Perle d’Or’, ‘Rita Sammons’, ‘Lady Anne Kidwell’, ‘Mignonette’, ‘Clotilde Soupert’, ‘Eblouissant’, ‘Anne Marie de Montravel’, ‘Mme. Norbert Levavasseur’, ‘Perle des Rouges’, ‘Merveille des Rouges’, ‘Margo Koster’, ‘Sunshine’.

  • Rugosa Roses

    Rugosa roses are those derived from the thorny Japanese rose R. rugosa, the two mains forms of which are wine-red and white. Though a few crosses had been made earlier (as early as the 1820’s), in the 1890’s several hybridizers became interested in working with the species due to its hardiness, health, vigor, and special beauty. This lattermost is due to its glossy green leaves and splendid orange hips as well as its large, beautiful flowers. Due to the ease with which it crosses, much has been tried with the Rugosas, and efforts continue today. Colors range from white through pink to red and purple, and yellow can be found as well. There are new dwarfer cultivars, but normally the specimen will reach five or six feet in height. Some old cultivars: ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’, ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’, ‘Fimbriata’, ‘Mme. Alvarez del Campo’, ‘New Century’, ‘Comte d’Epremesnil’,’Grootendorst Supreme’, ‘Rose Apples’.

  • Miscellaneous Roses

    There are many small groups of roses we cannot cover here due to limitations of space. We can, however, at least mention a few names from some of these groups: Arvensis (‘Dundee Rambler’, ‘Ayrshire Queen’, ‘Mme. Viviand-Morel’, ‘Ruga’), Banksia (‘Albo-Plena’, ‘Lutescens’, ‘Luteo-Plena’), Bracteata (‘Alba Odorata’, ‘Maria Leonida’, ‘Mermaid’), Hugonis (‘Albert Maumene’, ‘Dr. E.M. Mills’), Laevigata (‘Ramona’, ‘Anemonen Rose’, ‘Silver Moon’), Musk (‘Flore Pleno’, ‘Fraser’s Pink Musk’, ‘Princesse de Nassau’), Roxburghii (‘Ma Surprise’, ‘Triomphe de la Guillotiere’, ‘Domaine de Chapuis’, ‘Chateau de la Juvenie’), Soulieana (‘Chevy Chase’, Kew Rambler’), Pomifera (‘Duplex’); Hybrid Musk, based on Noisette/HT crosses (‘Felicia’, ‘Francesca’, ‘Pax’, ‘Nur Mahal’, ‘Sammy’, ‘Penelope’), Lambertiana, based on Multiflora/HT crosses (‘Trier’, ‘Gneisenau’, ‘Lessing’, ‘Eva’), Thomasiana, based on Wichuraiana/HT crosses (‘Bishop Darlington’, ‘Bloomfield Dainty’, ‘Bloomfield Perfection’), Rubrifolia, a fascinating species with reddish glaucous foliage (‘Carmenetta’, ‘Flora Plena’, ‘Semi-Double’). Additionally, many species make charming additions to the garden in their own right. Some would be: R. brunonii, R. californica, R. carolina, R. cymosa, R. gigantea, R. macrophylla, R. moyesii, R. omiensis ‘Pteracantha’, R. pisocarpa, R. stellata ‘Mirifica’, R. xanthina, and many others – not forgetting the very close cousin of roses, Hulthemia persica, which has recently entered into some mainstream rose breeding.

  • Middle Aged Roses

    Increasingly without a home are the very beautiful Hybrid Teas and Floribundas introduced in the 1920’s, 1920’s, 1940’s, 1950’s . . . Too young to be “old” roses, too old for many current-day rosarians, these wonderful cultivars need an interest group of their own.

  • Current Questions/Activities in the Field.

    There are many questions in the field of Old Roses relating primarily to history (cultural questions are, in the main, the same as for modern roses). Those interested could spend many pleasurable hours trying to obtain biographical data on breeders, or researching the methods or cultivars used in their breeding. Persons in or around The Netherlands are in a position to do the field a very great favor by putting together a major article or book in English about the breeders, methods, and cultivars used by the Dutch in their breeding 1600-1830, as there is virtually nothing on this very very important subject available in English (or French). Questions about the history and make-up of the Damasks and Damask Perpetuals remain without firm answers, and are probably in the province of scientific rather than historic investigation.

    An important activity undertaken and enjoyed by many old rosers is to visit old gardens, cemeteries, churches, town sites, and the like to find, propagate, and try to identify old roses found growing there. Debate on the subject of identification is often hot and heart-felt, many people having sentimental attachments to names long familiar or roses they have found; those entering into the fray need to have obtained accurate descriptions from old sources such as catalogs, magazines, or books published when the cultivars were new. Those in a position to do so can check the old bulletins or minutes of their local horticultural society for data about what old roses were popular in the area in a particular era; those living in old rose-breeding areas may stumble on a gold mine of information when they do so. Those more interested in growing could put together collections of roses from, for instance, one breeder, and then write an article comparing, contrasting, extrapolating results. A major need is to import into the U.S. cultivars which at present exist only in Europe; the person attempting to do so needs to be able to meet the requirements of the USDA quarantine as well as to negotiate the difficulties of doing business overseas.

  • Organizations

    There are a number of organizations which would be of interest to devotees of old roses. We cannot know or list all of them; neither listing nor failing to list here indicates any opinion of their worth. Here are some addresses correct as of the time of writing (November 1, 1994); please write for information:


  • American Rose Society P.O. Box 30,000 Shreveport, LA 71130 USA
  • Canadian Rose Society Mrs. Anne Graber, Secr. 10 Fairfax Cr. Scarborough, Ont M1L 1Z8 Canada
  • The Royal National Rose Society Chiswell Green St. Albans, Herts. AL2 3NR England
  • La Societe Francaise des Roses Parc de la Tete d’Or 69459 Lyon France
  • Verein Deutscher Rosenfreunde Mainaustrasse 198A 775A Konstanz GermanyOLD ROSE SOCIETIES
  • Dallas Area Historical Rose Society P.O. Box 38585 Dallas, TX 75238-0585 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, North-East Lily Shohan RD 1 Box 299 Clinton Corners, NY 12514 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, North Central Henry Najat 6365 Wald Road Monroe, WI 53566 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, North West Judy Dexter 23665 41st Street South Kent, WA 98032 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, South East Jan Wilson 1700 S. Lafayette St. Shelby, NC 28150 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, South Central Karen Walbrun Rt. 2 Box 6661 Pipe Creek, TX 78063 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, South West (Last name A-G) Betty L. Cooper 925 King Drive El Cerrito, CA 94530 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, South West (Last name H-O) Marlea Graham 100 Bear Oaks Drive Martinez, CA 94553 USA
  • Heritage Roses Group, South West (Last name P-Z) Frances Grate 472 Gibson Avenue Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA
  • Heritage Rose Foundation 1512 Gorman Street Raleigh, NC 27606 USA
  • Les Amis de la Roseraie Roseraie Departemental Rue Andre Watel 94240 L’Hay-les-Roses France


We alas cannot list all old rose nurseries, and do not wish to seem to be recommending any one or group over any other in something involving commercial interests. The societies listed above can provide lists of nurseries, at least one recent book (“The Quest for the Rose”) lists several for a number of countries around the world, and there is currently (November 1, 1994) a thread on this newsgroup discussing rose suppliers (if it is gone, start another thread asking!).


All books published on this subject should be examined with interest and discernment. Here are a few recent ones; we are no doubt forgetting several equally worthy ones.

  • “The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book”, by Graham Stuart Thomas. Timber Press, 1994. (Timber Press phone #: [in USA] 1-800-327-5680; [elsewhere] (503) 227-2878.)
  • “The Quest for the Rose”, by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix. Random House, 1993.
  • “The Old Rose Advisor”, by Brent C. Dickerson. Timber Press, 1992.
  • “Roses”, by Peter Beales. Harvill, 1992.
  • Old Roses and English Roses”, by David Austin. Antique Collector’s Club, 1992.
  • “Rosa Rugosa”, by Suzy Verrier.
  • “Les Roses Anciennes”, by Charlotte Testu. Flammarion, 1984.