History of Roses: Part II

New Forms, New Colors

As the ninteenth century wore to a close, the destiny of roses had been changing for some time thanks to new forms and colors. One of the early tea roses, Safrano, was blessed with an unusually elegant form in bud. It is the high-centered bud that we associate today with the most photogenic of the cutting roses. Most tea roses have the same form in bud. And most of the hybrid tea roses released into commerce today have that too. For more than two decades around the middle of the ninteenth century tea roses remained distinct from hybrid perpetual roses – partly because interbreeding them is fraught with difficulties. In any case, the breeding of new tea roses would continue along a parallel path through the first several decades of the twentieth century.

La France, the first hybrid tea rose.

In 1867, a rose that was a cross between tea roses and hybrid perpetual roses was released. It was called La France, and its breeder declared it to be the first member of a new class of roses called hybrid tea roses. The rose featured the high-centered form of tea roses. And it had some of the cold hardiness of hybrid perpetual roses. A lot of roses were bred from it and something like 12,000 named cultivars share it as an ancestor; but few members of the first two generations remain in commerce today. One is a tough old hybrid perpetual named George Arends.

George Arends was categorized as a hybrid perpetual in its day, but it is strongly suggestive of the first hybrid tea rose to take the world by storm, Madame Caroline Testout. According to David Austin, this rose was planted as widely in its day as Peace was in its day. The city of Portland, for example, planted many hundreds along its streets, earning it the moniker “City of the Rose.” This rose marked the dawn of the hybrid tea rose and twilight for a lot of other classes. But the twilight hours would extend out for another half century as progress was made in a lot of new areas.

Madame Caroline Testout, a very influential hybrid tea rose.

The date of its introduction was 1890 and at that moment in history essentially all hybrid tea roses were pink. The petals of the hybrid tea rose are prone to scroll tightly as they peel away from the central petals. It’s a look that today we might call “retro.” Another characteristic was the fat, cabbagey flower that would slim down materially as the hybrid tea rose developed further. We pick up on the development of the hybrid tea later, because it would be impacted greatly by other developments.

At the turn of the twentieth century rose breeding encountered another influx of genetic material from five species roses: R. rugosa, R. wichurana, R. setigera, R. multiflora, and R. foetida.

The least influencial was probably R. setigera, a rose from prairies of the US. It was early in the ninteenth century when Feast succeeded in breeding Baltimore Belle. Much later in the ninteenth century Geschwind succeeded with Alpenfee and Himmelsauge and a few other great ramblers. Early in the twentieth century Horvath succeeded with Thor and Long John Silver. These are all vigorous climbers that can cover their whole frames in blossom – probably producing more roses in a year than a good climbing hybrid tea rose can in a decade. They possess a good degree of cold hardiness, but they are once-blooming roses. And for this reason customers tend to avoid them.

There seemed to be more hope for R. rugosa because it was remontant and fragrant. Van Fleet produced Sarah Van Fleet, Rugosa Magnifica, and Ruskin. In coolish climates the rugosa hybrids may be among the easiest roses one can grow. Unfortunately too many of its descendents have not proven to possess a kind of garden grace or a prettiness of flower that is expected of roses. And most rugosa hybrids remain at the fringe of the rose world.

In 1950 Wilhelm Kordes successfully crossed R. rugosa and R. wichurana to produce R. kordesii. This turned out to be a landmark moment for incorporating both rugosa and wichurana heritage into roses, and a number of very vigorous kordesii hybrids were produced including Henry Kelsey, John Cabot, Leverkusen, Dortumnd, Rote Max Graf. As one looks a little farther out in history, one sees that R. kordesii and its descendants were crossed with R. acicularis hybrids to create a number of extremely cold hardy roses by a long line of determined and talented Canadian rose breeders including Colicutt, Marshall, and Svejda. The work has put a good measure of the beauty of the modern rose into zone 3 gardens where a century ago only one or two simple species roses suvived.

The story of the incorporation of R. wichurana is slightly better. Van Fleet, Walsh, Manda, and the Barbier brothers introduced a large number of lovely rambling roses that came from crosses of tea or hybrid tea roses with R. wichurana. Among the better ones might be Albertine, Francoise Juranville, May Queen, Primavere, Alida Lovett, Jacotte, Jersey Beauty, and the famous Dr. Van Fleet. Dr. Van Fleet, of course, produced a sport named New Dawn which was the first remontant hybrid wichurana. New Dawn parented a host of climbing roses that share some of the vigor and disease resistance of the kordesii hybrids. Some of the more famous include Aloha, Blossomtime,  Cadenza, Penny Lane, Don Juan, Pearl Drift, Parade, and Pink Perpetue.

Blossomtime, a pink climbing rose descended from New Dawn with lovely scrolled petals.

The story of R. multiflora is more promising, still. By 1804 rosa multiflora carnea was in commerce in Europe. Its influence was marginal for a century, playing a role mostly in climbing roses such as Seven Sisters and Crimson Rambler. In 1904 Peter Lambert introduced the multiflora rose Trier, a cross of the multiflora Aglaia and the tea rose Mrs R.G. Sharman-Crawford.  Trier’s appearance was almost indistinguishable from Aglaia’s but it turned out to be fragrant and remontant owing to a strong tea and noisette rose heritage.  This set of qualities set the stage for some very favorable developments.

Bishop Pemberton quickly crossed it with a number of tea and hybrid tea roses producing Buff Beauty, Cornelia, Danae, Prosperity, Pax, Kathleen, Nur Mahal, and Robin Hood. These roses have, for a century, been among rosarians’ favorites for their ironclad constitutions, their fragrant flowers, their cold hardiness, there generosity in flowering, and their lovely shrubby nature. We note that Robin Hood descends from Crimson Rambler through the polyantha Miss Edith Cavell, a sport of the very prominent Orleans Rose.

Orleans Rose boasts over 10,000 named varieties as descendants. Together with the likes of the very sporting Tausendschoen we have the basis of the polyantha class of roses that would be used both to impart cold hardiness to roses for Northern European gardens,  to create floribunda roses.

Bred from a polyantha rose Perle des Rouges by Pedro Dot in 1944 was, Perla de Alcanada, the first miniature rose. Ralph Moore would spend something like five decades of his life working primarily with miniature roses. Moore’s work, in turn, inspired Saville, Desamero, Bennett, and others to take up the mantle.  Dot also bred Nevada, one of the few R. moyesii cultivars that blooms through the season.

So the multiflora rose gave rise to the polyantha, the hybrid musk, and the miniature rose classes. And in the middle of the twentieth century it would give rise to the floribunda class.

As influencial as the multiflora roses were, it was R. foetida that would integrate most seemlessly into the main stream of roses. In 1900 Joseph Pernet-Ducher, seeking a rose with strong, unfading yellow color crossed a seedling of a hybrid perpetual rose, Antoine Ducher, with R.foetida. The result was Soleil d’Or. This rose was, in turn, crossed with a number of hybrid tea roses. The close descendants of these crosses were brightly colored hybrid tea roses sometimes with a mix of red, yellow, and orange coloration. Known as Pernetianas, they became the rage. Given that Soleil d’Or has over 12,000 named descendants it has become one of the most influencial roses of all time. Some (perhaps unrepresentative) examples that can be found in commerce; Belle Cuivree, Feu Pernet-Ducher, Jacques Latouche, and the great missing link with 10,000 descendants, Lyon Rose.

In the anglophone world, the hybrid tea rose Ophelia along with her twenty seven sports including Madame Butterfly were all being cultivated widely, despite its lack of connection to the Pernetianas. Yet the size and beauty of Lyon Rose made it impossible to ignore in rose breeding.  And soon its  influence would spread through hybrid tea roses.

In a fairy tale world such as the one we like to imagine roses inhabiting, this would be the point at which everyone lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, though, R.foetida reintroduced to roses a great weakness for blackspot. Even today bright red, yellow, and orange roses must be selected with great care by those who garden where blackspot is much of a problem. since the problem proves worst in those colors. But the genetic influence of R. foetida is ubiquitous, and the blackspot problem is by no means limited to red, yellow, and orange colored roses.

Gingersnap rose

Gingersnap, a bright and cheery orange floribunda rose that is susceptible to blackspot.

To make matters worse, the bulk of rose breeding has been conducted in places where blackspot is not much of a problem: Mediterranean climates such as those in California’s central valley or France’s southern provinces. Some breeding has been conducted in more humid maritime climates such as those of Denmark, England, or Germany. In such places blackspot can sometimes present a problem, but summer temperatures tend to remain too low for blackspot to pose a mortal threat as it does in the US east of the Mississippi.

This little problem with blackspot would bring giants of the industry to their knees.