Brushing up on the unique history of the rose

Published 7:04 pm Saturday, December 16, 2017

By Terry Rector

I had to brush up on rose history for a talk to a garden club over at Brandon this week. As usual, I began with fossils and moved up through the Egyptians and Romans and on to the French and Brits of merely a few hundred years ago. Of course I pointed out folks in Asia were doing similar things with roses at the same time.  But the rose people on two sides of the earth just didn’t know about the other side for a long time.

Once the off-white and pink aromatic European spring-blooming-only roses literally got crossed up with the bright whites, yellows and true reds of the repeat-blooming Asian types, the rose hybridizers had a heyday.

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In between the fossils and modern roses were, and still are, nature’s own wild rose species. And that’s the official group name of the originals; Species Roses. The other two groups are Old Garden Roses and Modern Roses.

In any chat that includes Species Roses, it is incumbent to cover a few well-known ones. There’s the Cherokee rose, so named because of the Cherokee Native Americans’ forced Trail of Tears march from their homeland in the Carolinas to the government-designated reservation in Oklahoma. Legend has it wherever a tear dropped, a flower bloomed. Actually, Rosa laevigata is an Asian import that took off growing wild in parts of this country, including from the Carolinas to Oklahoma.

Another Asian import, Rosa multiflora, aka Multiflora rose, is a wild species that became so troublesome that to this day it is against some states’ laws to plant or sell the species. But at one time planting it was encouraged by our same government that urged on kudzu planting.

Not all the Species Rose species from Asia are troublesome here in the U.S. I have Chestnut rose, or Rosa roxburghii, and it is fine as a yard plant. It is so tough mine never gets sprayed or pruned. The root mass slowly spreads, making a widening plant, but it is not invasive. Just don’t plant it in tight quarters, or in a mixed bed because eventually it wants room.

The popular climber Rosa banksia, or Lady Banks as we say, is also from China. It puts on a show every spring for about two weeks and then that’s it for blooming but the foliage contributes to landscapes for much of the year.

The story of the world’s largest rose plant has been told and retold. For repetition sake, it is a Lady Banks planted in 1885 by a bride who brought a seedling from her homeland Scotland to Tombstone, Arizona and planted it in the backyard of a boarding house.  It grows there today on a flat overhead trellis now over 4,000 square feet.

Two things, some people think, are responsible for its massive growth. For one, it is surrounded by buildings, cutting out the tough desert wind. And down below its roots is leaky abandoned mineshaft that once took on the overflow of Tombstone’s original sewer system; a cesspool!
Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.