What would Tyler be without roses? And what would roses be without the China rose (Rosa chinensis)?
Brought out of China in the mid-1700s, the China rose was entirely different from any rose known at that time. Its most amazing aspect was its ability to repeat bloom, not just once, but over and over again. You must realize that at the time there were no ever-blooming roses in Europe or America. It seems that China had them nearly a thousand years in advance.
In addition to its constancy of bloom, the China rose also possessed other unique characteristics, including delicate twiggy growth, pointed buds and purplish-red new growth. All were new additions to the rose world. Amazingly, the color of China rose blossoms actually grew darker with age, as opposed to fading in bright light as existing roses of the time did.
Details are sketchy, but the wild China rose (Rosa chinensis spontanea) apparently was not familiar to Western horticulturists until 1885. This was a vigorous, climbing, single-flowered red rose, which, interestingly, was only a once-bloomer. Either through sporting or hybridization through the ages, it yielded dwarf ever-blooming shrubs.
It now is assumed that the original “stud” China roses, which were brought out of China, actually were hybrids between the China rose (R. chinensis) and the tea rose (R. odorata). The two “original” China roses in Europe were Slater’s Crimson China, the first true red rose, and Parsons Pink China, also known as Old Blush because of its darkening petal color as it aged.
It’s astounding to think of the impact that these two roses have had on horticulture. Slater’s Crimson China is the original parent of all modern red roses while Old Blush is apparently the parent of the Portland class, the Bourbon class, the Noisette class and possibly others. The China rose is also the direct parent of tea roses, polyantha roses and miniature roses.
In quite a testimony to their survivability and duration, Old Blush and other China roses are among the most common vernacular garden roses found throughout the South. That’s simply amazing for roses depicted in Chinese silk screen paintings 1,000 years ago.
It’s a shame to think of all that the China rose has contributed to our modern roses (miniatures, polyanthas, floribundas, grandifloras, hybrid teas and Knock Outs), then to realize that now they are largely forgotten and neglected by the modern rose world as a useless relic of rose history.
Some of the China roses that perform well in the South include Ducher, Old Blush, Cramoisi Superieur, Louis Phillipe (the Creole Rose), Viridiflora (the Green Rose), Martha Gonzales, Archduke Charles and Mutabilis (the Butterfly Rose). In all honesty, I haven’t seen a true China rose, named or otherwise, that hasn’t performed well in the South.
Greg Grant is the Smith County Horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens,” read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). For more information on local educational programming, go to smith.agrilife.org.