WHAT IS A HERITAGE ROSE?
Broadly speaking, this means that the term includes all wild roses [species] and crosses made with them [hybrids], all roses bred a long time ago, all ‘found’ roses, all roses of historical importance, everything in fact except roses bred in modern times – and there is no single fixed date for what is modern, as it depends on the local history of growing roses.
If you visit a garden with a rose collection, you find that they are often planted in groups of particular types. Heritage roses appear as Albas, Gallicas, Damasks, Mosses, Hybrid Perpetuals, Polyanthas, Teas - and other groupings. Over the next year this section will expand to include short descriptions of Heritage rose types with pictures of a selection of cultivars.
Gallica roses are selections and hybrids of Rosa gallica, a suckering upright rose which grows wild in southern and central Europe, Turkey, Iraq and the Caucasus. Cultivated forms have been known since medieval times and can be identified in paintings and tapestries. They existed even earlier, in ancient Greece and Rome, but cannot be named with certainty. Gallica roses became very popular in France in the first part of the nineteenth century and were bred in large numbers. The flowers are large and come in all shades of pink and crimson. There are some single or semi-double cultivars but most open from fat buds to prettily shaped blooms with a swirl of ruffled petals and a strong sweet scent. Gallicas make a once-flowering shrub of medium size, are hardy to Zone 5 and will grow on poor soil.
China roses are the oldest type of ‘old’ rose. They descend from hybrids between Rosa chinensis, Rosa gigantea and probably Rosa multiflora that have been known and grown in China for a long time. ‘Old Blush’ was one of the first to be introduced to the West in about circa 1750 and is still popular today, but Chinese paintings dated over a thousand years ago show a very similar rose. China roses make short shrubs which flower repeatedly – all year round in warm climates. The ability to flower repeatedly was used by Europeans to breed a range of hybrids.
Noisette roses are descended from a chance hybrid found at the start of the nineteenth century by an American rice planter in Charleston, South Carolina and now called ‘Champneys Pink Cluster’ after him. It is a cross between China rose ‘Old Blush’ and Rosa moschata, and flowers just once. But a local nurseryman, Philippe Noisette, raised a repeat-flowering seedling that is called ‘Noisette Carnée’ or ‘Blush Noisette’, which later gave the name Noisette to the whole group. And because Philippe Noisette sent breeding material to his brother Louis Noisette in Paris, the group increased rapidly on both sides of the Atlantic. It is easy to understand why: they are relatively hardy, not-too-vigorous, repeat-flowering climbers with large clusters of pretty small flowers.
Alba roses have been known since early medieval times and can be identified in paintings from about 1400. They are thought to have originated as hybrids between a member of the Caninae section and Rosa gallica. They make tall shrubs which tolerate both poor soils and cold winters, so have remained popular in Northern Europe and similar climates. The foliage is blue green. Alba roses bloom once only, in summer. Their flowers are well scented and come in white, or delicate shades of pink. They enjoyed a modest period of popularity in the late eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries before the explosion of Gallica hybrids and the development of repeat-flowering roses.
Tea roses resemble China roses and have a similar hybrid ancestry. Their scent recalls the smell of China tea leaves – hence the name. They began to be introduced from China to Europe early in the nineteenth century and rapidly became fashionable. They are not hardy outdoors in cooler areas and need hot summers to thrive. They do best in Mediterranean climates where they have a long flowering season, often continuous. Tea roses come in a range of many pastel colours with subtle blends and shades in individual blooms. Their scent is superb. There are both bush and climbing forms.
Polyantha roses, little shrubs with large clusters of small flowers, began as a surprise seedling from a once-flowering Multiflora Rambler. The first to be introduced was ‘Pâquerette’ by Jean-Baptiste Guillot in France in 1875. Many more followed from him and other breeders. The effect of large clusters of flowers on a small bush, together with their repeat-flowering, made them popular as garden plants at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. They fell from favour with the introduction of the larger- flowered floribunda or cluster roses in the mid-twentieth century. Latterly they have been enjoying something of a resurgence, because they are tough hardy plants that fit easily in smaller gardens.
Damask roses are hybrids with an interesting genetic history. DNA tests prove that the ancestors of the early Damasks are Rosa gallica, Rosa moschata and, notably, Rosa fedtschenkoana which comes from the mountains of Central Asia. This suggests the cross originated somewhere along the Silk Road and that damask roses gradually made their way westwards. As R. fedtschenkoana flowers continuously, this hybridising brought remontant genes to the mix, giving rise to summer-flowering Damasks (flowering just once) and autumn-flowering cultivars (with flowers in autumn too). Damask roses are very hardy and have a lax habit of growth, with soft, pale green leaves. The flowers are medium sized, pink or white, and very sweetly scented. They have been used to produce attar of roses since the 16th century. Some examples of Damask roses are: Mme Hardy, Ville de Bruxelles, Quatre Saisons
Hybrid Perpetual Roses [HPs]were developed during the mid-nineteenth century from crosses between China roses and Portland roses. They quickly became fashionable and were bred in great numbers, especially in France, until the end of that century. HPs have large flowers, often vary large indeed, and usually with a good scent. They do not bloom perpetually, despite their name, but most of them do flower more than once. In the garden they make tall, vigorous plants, sometimes pegged down because of their open habit of growth, so that they produce flowers along the length of their long stems. They were popular both as cut flowers and on the show bench. Some examples of Hybrid Perpetual roses are: Mrs John Laing, Général Jacqueminot, Paul Neyron
Wichurana ramblers are hybrids of Rosa wichurana, a species with long trailing branches and evergreen leaves that is found in eastern China, southern Japan and Korea. It reached Western Europe and the United States late in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Breeders quickly realised the potential for developing decorative rambling garden roses and large numbers appeared on the market. Many are still popular today, draped over arches, arbours and pergolas. Wichurana ramblers have graceful, flexible stems with bright glossy leaves (evergreen in many cases). They can have large or small flowers, singly or in clusters, and come in a wide range of colours. Most of them are scented. They do best in temperate conditions, less well in places with very cold winters. Some examples of Wichurana ramblers are: Albéric Barbier, Miss Helyett, Alexandre Girault
What is meant by a ‘Heritage’ rose? We spent several years discussing this before a definition was agreed at the committee meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2017: “All species and species crosses, all found roses (until they are better identified), and roses of historical importance such as 'Madame A. Meilland,' also known as ‘Peace' 1945.”
Charles de Mills
Gloire de France
Rosa gallica Versicolor
Comtesse du Cayla
Bouquet Tout Fait
Alister Stella Gray
E Veyrat Hermanos
Souvenir d’Adolphe Turc
Ville de Bruxelles
Mrs John Laing
During the WFRS Convention in Copenhagen in 2018, at the meeting of the Conservation and Heritage Rose Committee, we discussed how best to help members to identify 'unknown' roses. The decision was strongly in favour of setting up an international panel of knowledgeable rosarians who, using email, could help with problems of identification.
With the advice of delegates to the Committee, I have contacted a number of expert rosarians from around the world who have generously agreed to help identify roses in cases where this has previously proved hard. Their identities will not be released, mindful of the need to protect them from receiving a flood of requests. Hence, all requests and replies will at first be channelled through the WFRS.
A list of requirements for identification (see below) has been compiled as a guide to those requesting help and for panel members trying to identify a rose. Often someone who knows a rose can name it from a single photograph, but in most cases more detail is necessary. We realise that at times it will not be possible to send all this information, but please provide as much as you can.
Habit: whether the rose is a bush, shrub or a climber, the plant’s size
Flower: size when open, approximate number of petals, colour
Flowering period: once only or repeat-flowering
Scent, if any: light, sweet, strong, etc.
Hips: colour, shape and size
Foliage: shade of green, colour of young leaves
Armature: prickles present or not, shape
History of plant: when planted, and any other information
Photographs (no more than six or seven) would greatly help: close-ups of the flower in bud, partially open and fully open, the entire plant in full flower, its foliage.
All requests for identification should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, headed 'Rose ID panel.' Please include your contact details and note that your email address may be shared with other panel members.
Download all of the editions of the newsletter of the WFRS Conservation and Heritage Group.
Edition 8 - july 2012
Edition 9 - january 2013
Edition 10 - December 2013
Edition 11 - april 2014
Edition 12- july 2015
Edition 13 - December 2015
Download the index for By Any Other Name in MS Excel format
BAON INDEX - updated march 2020
Edition 22 - SEPTEMBER 2020
Edition 23 - March 2021
Edition 24 - september 2021
Edition 21 - MARCH 2020
GUIDE TO USING THE SANGERHAUSEN DATABASE
Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen is the biggest collection of roses in the world. Their main site is
The Europa-Rosarium is only available in German language.
If you look on the home page, and click on Die Rosen in the red band, it brings up a menu on the left side. Click again on Internet-Rosendatenbank and at the bottom right of the page that comes up click on zur Sangerhäuser Rosen-Datenbank and you can search among their collections. It is open-access.
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DESIGNED BY PAUL HAINS