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.
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
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.
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: