Monday, August 11, 2008

History of the Rose

Throughout history no flower has been so loved, or renowned as the rose. Rose is older than the human hands that first cared for it, drew pictures of it, and celebrated rose in music and lore. Forty million years ago, a rose left its imprint on a slate deposit at the Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado, and fossils of roses from Oregon and Montana date back 35 million years, long before humans existed. Fossils have also been found in Germany and in Yugoslavia. Roses grow wild as far north as Norway and Alaska and as far south as Mexico and North Africa, but no wild roses have ever been found to grow below the equator.

The rose apparently originated in Central Asia about 60 to 70 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch, and spread over the entire Northern Hemisphere. Early civilizations, including the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Romans, appreciated roses and grew them widely as long as five thousand years ago.

About 500 B.C. Confucius wrote of roses growing in the Imperial Gardens and noted that the library of the Chinese emperor contained hundreds of books about roses. It is said that the rose gardeners of the Han dynasty (207 B.C.-A.D. 220) were so obsessed with these flowers that their parks threatened to engulf land needed for producing food, and that the emperor ordered some rose gardens plowed under.

The oldest rose identified today is Rosa gallica, also known as the French rose, which once bloomed wild throughout central and southern Europe and western Asia, and still survives there. Although the exact origin of Rosa gallica is unknown, traces of it appear as early as the twelfth century B.C., when the Persians considered it a symbol of love.

Roses in the ancient world

Descending from Rosa gallica is Rosa damascena, the damask rose, whose well-known fragrance has been part of rose history since the rose first appeared in about 900 B.C. About 50 B.C. a North African variant called Rosa damascena semperflorens, the 'Autumn Damask', thrilled the Romans because it bloomed twice a year - a trait previously unknown to them The 'Autumn Damask', which has been traced back to at least the fifth century B.C., is believed to be a cross between Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata, the musk rose. Until European merchants discovered the tea and China roses in the Orient many centuries later, this rose would be the only repeat bloomer known to the Western world.

Another important early rose was rosa alba, the 'White Rose of York'. Made famous as the emblem of the House of York during the fifteenth-century Wars of the Roses, this five-petaled rose is actually far older, dating to before the second century A.D. It probably originated in the Caucasus and traveled west by way of Greece and Rome. Rosa alba and its relatives, known as albas, are believed to have descended from some combination of Rosa gallica, Rosa damascena, Rosa canina, and Rosa corymbifera.

The early Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans all grew and traded in roses, which they brought with them as they traveled and conquered. As a result, roses spread throughout the Middle East and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

The Greek scientist and writer Theophrastus, cataloging roses known about 300 B.C., described their flowers as having anywhere from five to one hundred petals. His was the first known detailed botanical description of a rose. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia around this time, grew roses in his garden and is credited for introducing cultivated roses into Europe. He may have had something to do with rose growing in Egypt, too.

In 1888 famous English archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, while excavating tombs in Upper Egypt, found the remains of rose garlands that had been used as a funeral wreath in the second century A.D. He identified the rose as Rosa x richardii, a cross of Rosa gallica and Rosa phoenicia known commonly as the 'Holy Rose of Abyssinia', or 'St. John's Rose'. The petals, though shriveled, had retained their pink color and, when soaked in water, were restored to a nearly lifelike state. Other researchers have found paintings of roses on the wall of the tomb of Thutmose IV, who died in the fourteenth century B.C. References to the rose have been deciphered in hieroglyphics.

In ancient Rome patricians tended rose gardens at their homes, and public rose gardens were a favorite place to pass a summer afternoon. Records show that there were two thousand public gardens in Rome before its fall in A.D. 476. The poet and satirist Horace complained about the shortsightedness of the Roman government for allowing rose gardens to be planted where the land should have been used for wheat fields and orchards.

Medieval roses

After the fall of the Roman Empire, as Europeans struggled to survive the onslaught of armies and marauders, rose gardening became impossible for all but a few. Charlemagne (A.D. 742-814) grew roses on the palace grounds at Aix-Ia-Chapelle, but it was primarily the monks who kept roses alive, growing them and other plants for a variety of medicinal uses. Monasteries of the Benedictine order in particular became centers of botanical research.

As social conditions stabilized, roses began to reappear in private gardens. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, soldiers returning from the Crusades in the Middle East brought back tales of extravagant rose gardens, as well as sample flowers. Travel increased everywhere, and traders, diplomats, and scholars began to exchange roses and other plants. Interest in the rose was rekindled.

Early herbalists give testimony to the burgeoning knowledge of roses. John Gerard, an English herbalist, wrote in his Herball in 1597 that 14 kinds of roses were known. By 1629, John Parkinson, the apothecary to James I, had reported 24 different roses in his herbal Paradisus. At the end of the 1700s, the English artist Mary Lawrance identified and illustrated some ninety different roses in a book titled "A Collection of Roses from Nature".

Roses in the new world

Across the Atlantic many separate strains of roses had arisen in the wilds of North America. Of some 200 rose species now known worldwide, 35 are indigenous to the United States, making the rose as much a native of North America as the bald eagle. These roses include Rosa virginiana, the first American species mentioned in European literature; Rosa carolina, the 'Pasture Rose'; Rosa setigera, the 'Prairie Rose'; Rosa californica; Rosa woodsii; and Rosa palustris, the 'Swamp Rose', named for the environment in which this rose grows best.

Captain John Smith wrote of the Indians of the James River Valley planting wild roses to beautify their villages, thus making roses one of the first North American native plants to be widely cultivated as an ornamental.

When William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, lived in Europe in the late 1600s, he observed that roses enjoyed high favor in gardens as well as in the arts and sciences. Returning to America in 1699, he brought 18 rosebushes with him. He later discussed their beauty and medicinal virtue in a "Book of Physic" for the medical care of Pennsylvania settlers.

One marvel Penn had undoubtedly beheld in Europe was Rosa centifolia, the cabbage rose. True to its botanical name, this rose has an astounding 100 petals, so densely arrayed that the flowers resemble small cabbages. Once thought to be ancient -perhaps the 100-petaled rose described by Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D.-the cabbage rose is now considered by many to be a product of late seventeenth-century Dutch rose growers. Others believe that it was imported from Asia in 1596. Whatever its history, the cabbage rose is probably a complex hybrid of many ancient roses, including the gallicas, damasks, and albas.

A famous sport (mutation) of the cabbage rose is Rosa centifolia muscosa, the moss rose, which appeared about 1700 and is still grown and used in hybridizing. This rose has tiny, highly fragrant, moss like hairs along its stems and flower buds.

Although European hybridizers were busy during this period, they based their introductions on a limited gene pool, which made novelty hard to achieve. Moreover, the laws of heredity were poorly understood-a handicap that was to persist until well after Gregor Mendel conducted his research in the mid-1800s. In addition, early breeders guarded their methods with paranoiac jealousy, worried that competitors would put them out of business.

Roses from the orient

A revolution in rose breeding and growing took place in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when increased trade with the Orient brought Rosa chinensis, the China rose, to the attention of Europeans. 'Old Blush', the first variety of China rose to reach the West, was introduced into Sweden in 1752 and into the rest of Europe by 1793. Rosa x odorata, the tea rose, followed in 1808 or 1809. Tea rose was so named because of the tea like scent of its foliage.

Although the Chinese had grown these and other roses for centuries, their impact in Europe was truly phenomenal. Their most remarkable quality - continual repeat blooming - was completely unknown in Europe at the time and made them an instant sensation. Unlike the repeat-blooming "Autumn Damask', which blooms briefly twice a year, continual repeat bloomers produce flowers over an extended period during the growing season. In addition to its flowering capabilities, the China rose possesses a foliage that is almost evergreen, and the tea rose a foliage that is resistant to mildew. European rose breeders were eager to marry these traits into existing rose lines. Indeed, the China and tea roses laid the genetic foundation for almost all modern roses. Unfortunately, they also passed on a lack of cold hardiness to many of their descendants.

The China rose had also been called the Bengal rose because it was imported to the West from Calcutta, the region's capital. In the eighteenth century a large botanical garden flourished there, containing roses brought from China by merchants of the British East India Company. In 1789 a British sea captain took flowers home to England. Beginning in 1793, more specimens were shipped from Calcutta to many parts of Europe by Dr. William Roxburgh, the director of the company.

In the British colonies in America, rose commerce was active during the eighteenth century. Robert Prince opened the first American nursery in Flushing, Long Island, in 1737, and started to import a mounting assortment of new plants. By 1746 he advertised 1,600 varieties of roses-no doubt one of the largest collections in the world at that time. Prince's records show that in 1791, Thomas Jefferson ordered two centifolias, a 'Common Moss', a 'Rosa Mundi', an unidentified yellow, a musk rose, and, quite interestingly, a China rose. Since China roses did not reach most of Europe until 1793, it is possible that the rose traveled directly from Asia, on a clipper ship that crossed the Pacific by way of Cape Horn.

The Portlands were a class of rose that came into being about 1800, probably derived from a cross of the "Autumn Damask' with the China rose and Rosa gallica. Named for the duchess of Portland, the Portlands were one of the first good garden hybrids to meld East and West, possessing the repeat-blooming ability of their China rose parent. Also called damask perpetuals, the Portlands were grown until the hybrid perpetual was introduced almost forty years later.

Josephine and Malmaison

No one did more to popularize the rose at the beginning of the 1800s than Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon I. An ardent lover of the roses, she started a "rose renaissance" by attempting to grow every known variety in her garden at Malmaison, near Paris.

In the 16 years between 1798, when she first started the garden, and 1814, when she died a month before her fifty-first birthday, she collected 250 rose specimens. To support her hobby, Napoleon ordered his captains to bring home any new rose they found blooming on foreign shores. So widely esteemed was her garden that the English, who were at war with the French, allowed plants for Josephine to cross blockades and permitted her head gardener to travel freely across the Channel. The reputation of Josephine's garden spread across Europe, igniting an interest in rose growing and hybridizing that would eventually lead to the birth of modern roses.

Because of the prestigious gardens at Malmaison, France became a leading grower and exporter of roses. In 1815 some 2,000 varieties of roses were available from French growers. That figure jumped to 5,000 varieties in only 10 years. French growers also exported roses to New Orleans and cities up the Mississippi River before the Civil War. Southern gardeners found the tender China and tea roses especially suited to their warm climate.

The rise of the hybrid tea

The Bourbon rose, Rosa x borboniana, was brought to France in 1817 from the island of Réunion (then called Île de Bourbon) near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Its background is unknown, but it is probably a natural hybrid of Rosa chinensis and the "Autumn Damask', since both roses were grown as hedges on the island. The Bourbon rose quickly became one of the most popular roses of the early nineteenth century because of its recurrent bloom. Like the Portlands, it was one of the first to combine the best of the European and Oriental roses. The original Bourbon was bright pink; this rose is now lost, but among the many remaining hybrids of the Bourbon is one that was a primary source of red in today's roses.

Another product of a crossing of European and Oriental roses was the hybrid China class. These tall and somewhat unattractive plants did not repeat bloom well, and never became popular on their own. They were, however, among the ancestors of the hybrid perpetuals, polyanthas, floribundas, and hybrid teas.

An American contribution to the history of the nineteenth-century rose was the noisette rose, Rosa noisettiana, the first rose known to be hybridized in America. The noisette rose was a cross, between Rosa moschata, the musk rose, and Rosa chinensis, the China rose. It was hybridized in 1812 by a South Carolina rice grower named John Champneys, who called his creation 'Champneys' Pink Cluster'. But he lacked interest in marketing the rose, so he gave a cutting to his neighbor Philippe Noisette. Philippe, in turn, sent it to his brother Louis, a nurseryman in Paris. By crossing this low-growing rose with other, taller roses, Louis developed a tall new rose that he dubbed 'Blush Noisette'-uncharitably snubbing the original hybridizer.

In the mid-1800s Rosa rugosa, well known as the rose of the seashore, came to the Western world from Japan. This rose does not hybridize well, and therefore has not contributed much to the history of roses. For over a thousand years, however, it has been valued for its crinkled foliage, single flowers, and copious production of hips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C.

The creation of modern roses was well under way by 1837, when most of the Chinese roses had traveled to Europe. That year saw the introduction of the hybrid perpetual, a complex French hybrid whose ancestors included the Bourbon, damask, China, Portland, cabbage, tea, and noisette roses. The hybrid perpetual was extremely hardy; its flowers were large and fragrant. Early varieties of hybrid perpetuals were pink, but when they were crossed with Bourbon roses, the Bourbons' red coloring entered the line.

The hybrid perpetuals remained popular until the turn of the century, when they were eclipsed by the superior hybrid tea. Unfortunately, most of them have been lost. Of the more than three thousand varieties hybridized during this golden age of roses - from the time of Josephine's garden at Malmaison through the assimilation of roses from the Orient - only about fifty varieties can be purchased today.

The result of a cross between a hybrid perpetual and a tea rose, the hybrid tea had a more compact growing habit and more dependable ever blooming qualities than its hybrid perpetual parent. The first hybrid tea, 'La France', was introduced in 1867. The National Rose Society of Great Britain formally recognized the hybrid tea class in 1893. Since then it has been improved considerably and it remains the most popular rose today.

The creation of the hybrid tea marked the start of a new era in rose breeding. All classes of roses in existence before 1867 were deemed old garden roses, whereas all new classes were to be called modern roses.

In 1900, after 13 years of trying, French hybridizer Joseph Pernet-Ducher introduced 'Soleil d'Or', a cross between a red hybrid perpetual and 'Persian Yellow', Rosa foetida persiana, which had been brought from Persia to England by Sir Henry Willcock in 1837. This cross created a yellow color that was able to survive interbreeding. Pernet -Ducher's 'Rayon d'Or', a golden yellow; soon followed. Thanks to these introductions, a range of colors never seen before in modern roses came into being: gold, copper, salmon, and apricot. Pernet-Ducher soon became known as the Wizard of Lyons, the town where he did his work. For the first 30 years of their existence, these roses formed a separate group called the Pernetianas. Later, they were merged with the hybrid tea class.

Hybrid tea roses resisted cold weather but were not vigorous growers, having spindly roots. In the late nineteenth century, nursery workers learned that these roses could be made to grow better if they were grafted onto the roots of Rosa multiflora, a vigorous plant with nondescript flowers.

Twentieth-century roses

At the beginning of the 1900s, Danish rose breeder Svend Poulsen hybridized many polyanthas. The polyantha was a new class of rose developed in the late nineteenth century by French nurseryman Jean Sisley, who crossed Rosa multiflora and a dwarf China rose. Polyanthas were low-growing bushes smothered in clusters of small flowers that bloomed repeatedly all summer. In much of his work, Poulsen used the East Asian species Rosa wichuraiana, which lent winter hardiness to its progeny.

In the 1920s Poulsen crossed the polyantha with the hybrid tea to produce the first floribundas: the pink 'Else Poulsen' and the red 'Kirsten Poulsen'. As its name implies, the floribunda has an abundance of flowers, a legacy of its polyantha parent. From its hybrid tea parent, the floribunda inherited plant height and long cutting stems.

While the development of bush roses was unfolding, climbers were coming into being. Climbers have complex histories and lineages that are often difficult to trace. Many evolved from ramblers, the first of which was 'Crimson Rambler', an import from Japan in 1893. 'Crimson Rambler' was descended from Rosa wichuraiana and Rosa multiflora. Other climbing hybrids of Rosa wichuraiana are "American Pillar', 'Blaze', 'Dr. W. Van Fleet', 'Dorothy Perkins', and 'New Dawn'. The large Bourbon roses also influenced climbers, as did the tall noisettes.

Other climbers are sports of bush roses that produced long, pliable canes; still others are descendants of large shrub roses. In recent years many have evolved from Rosa kordesii, a tall, semi climbing shrub rose that resulted from a cross of Rosa rugosa and Rosa wichuraiana in 1952. The hybrid musks, which are large shrubs or small climbers, were created in the 1920s from crosses between noisettes and Rosa multiflora ramblers.

Reimer Kordes, the twentieth-century German hybridizer who created Rosa kordesii, did a great deal of breeding using Rosa spinosissima, a rose that had existed since the Middle Ages or before. He crossed it with hybrid teas to develop a fine group of modern shrub roses called kordesii shrubs, including 'Frülingsgold' and 'Frülingsmorgen'. These are winter hardy low-maintenance flowers, commonly found in public areas and along roadsides in Europe.

With the coming of World War II, the rose-hybridizing boom slowed down, especially in Europe, but resumed once the war ended. Despite the proliferation of forms and colors, one long-sought-after color range-pure orange to orange-red - was still lacking in modern roses. The floribunda 'Independence', introduced in 1951, was the first modern rose in this orange-red range. The key to its unique coloration was the pigment pelargonidin, which also gives geraniums their scarlet coloring. It was not until 1960, when the German hybridizing firm Rosen Tantau introduced 'Tropicana', that we had an orange-red hybrid tea.

In 1954 a new class of rose was created to accommodate the rose 'Queen Elizabeth'. Called grandiflora, this class resulted from crossing a hybrid tea with a floribunda. Its flowers resemble those of the hybrid tea, but they bloom in clusters like those of the floribunda.

Today there are more than thirty thousand varieties of roses of all classes (some eleven thousand of these are hybrid teas). However, many of them, especially the older varieties, are no longer sold; they survive, if at all, only in private gardens. Sorting out their backgrounds and histories is frequently a difficult task. Some roses are natural hybrids, making their parentage virtually impossible to determine. Others are commercial hybrids whose lineage has been either lost or deliberately obscured in order to deter piracy. However, this has not stopped enthusiasts from attempting to reconstruct it.

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