A Rose is a Rose but what Kind of Rose?

Floribunda, Old Rose, rambler, climber, hybrid tea, damask… There seem to be scads, if not thousands, of different kinds of roses. They come in all shapes and sizes, from miniatures to climbers and ramblers that will take over the entire landscape, very simple flowers to flowers that make bees wonder if they’ve fallen into an M.C. Escher drawing, colors from pure white to deep purple to almost black to “all-of-the-above.” Some thrive from being ignored, some almost require being tucked in every night. After DYCs*, roses seem to be the largest swath of generic flowers. “What is that?”

“A rose.”

“What kind?”



The oldest are the “Old Roses” and rugosa. These are the ur-roses, the wild stock from which all others come. Their flowers tend to be rather plain, and they bloom once, then set seed pods, called hips. In some places Rose Rugosa is a noxious weed because it has taken over and become a nuisance plant. Some, like Sweetbriar/Eglantine are almost thorn plants that happen to have blooms on occasion. They do have strong perfume, and their “Old Rose” descendants tend to be hardy, thriving with a little pruning, a little feeding, and a lot of ignoring. I’m partial to Old Roses, but Redquarters has room to let them do their thing.

“Old Rose” is a generic term for roses of no known origin. Harrison’s Yellow is one of the best known Old Roses in Texas, because it came with the settlers from back east, before that from Europe, and no one knows what it started as. Today it is the yellow rose of Texas. Some ancient European and Asian roses like rosa gallica, damask roses, the White Rose of York, tea roses, Sweetbriars, and their descents are available commercially, and new ones are being found as people look for them. For example, there’s an outfit, formerly known as Texas Rose Rustlers, of volunteers who go around to old farms and homesteads, and cemeteries, taking cuttings of roses and seeing if they are just overgrown or if they are previously unknown kinds. You can buy Old Roses from places like Antique Rose Emporium and Roses of Yesterday and other sources.

Hybrid tea – these are your show-stopping things like Peace, Joseph’s Coat, Tropicana, York-and-Lancaster, Double Delight, and the roses that make you stop in your tracks. They are hybrids of different kinds of roses, usually bred for color and scent. Most are grafted, although now more are available on their own roots. David Austin roses tend toward hybrid teas. The original tea roses are a bit delicate and need a great deal of care, while hybrid teas are hardier. Tea roses bloom more often than their hybrid offspring, but hybrid teas are repeat blooming, although it may be spring and fall rather than all season long. Most roses you see for sale are hybrid teas.

Climbers – roses that roam. They can be Old Roses, hybrid teas, or even miniatures. They all have long shoots, or canes, and love to sprawl. Some modern climbers “only” get to 10-12 feet across (or up), but their wild relatives can take over buildings. These are the roses used for rose arbors, or trained along walls, or into fences. If the tag says “climber” it needs lots of room. They come in all sorts of colors and shapes, with and without perfume. You can have climbing versions of other roses, and they will be labeled as ‘Climbing Pinkie’ to show that they are not shrub roses.

Shrub roses – roses that form mounds instead of sprawling. They can be rather tall if they are in a favorable environment, but they tend to stay somewhat compact. For example, Jacque Cartier is a pink double shrub rose in the front garden at Redquarters. Gertrude Jekyll has similar flowers, although darker pink, and it is a bit of a climber in the north-side flowerbed. It has branches/canes eleven feet long. Shrub roses also tend to be repeat bloomers and may or may not have scent. “Ebb Tide,” is a scented shrub rose. The Knockout Brand of roses are shrub roses, getting 3-4 feet tall. They are usually hardy, but it varies with the kind and how you define “hardy.” English Roses are known for their scents (see David Austin) while others are known for their complex blends of colors.

Miniature roses – roses for small places, sometimes called patio roses. They can be shrub or climbers. Most lack scent. There are not as many kinds as of full-size roses, and they can be a little tender. Although, Copper Penny has been in the ground, blooming, and being more-or-less ignored at Redquarters for almost 30 years and is still going strong. Personally, I’ve not been pleased with the quality of the miniatures  we’ve bought in the past seven or eight years, but it could be that we’ve just had bad luck in plants.

Damask roses – highly scented and no longer found in the wild, they are grown commercially for their oil and for eating (rose-water, rose petals for food). They can sprawl and make decent hedges, but are not really cold hardy in the original form. There are modern hybrids that keep the scent but are sturdier.

Floribunda – if you want clumps of flowers for an English Cottage Garden look, floribundas (abundant flowers) are great. The tend to have clusters of flowers and to mound. The original breeders’ goal was lots and lots of flowers, with a wide variety of colors, and hardy plants. Bonica and “Iceberg” are well-known floribundas. They are not great for cut roses, but if you want masses of colors, floribundas are quite good.

Knockout – this is a brand of roses, including shrubs and groundcovers. They are the rose for people who just want color and minimal care. It is easy to diss Knockout roses because they are wildly commercially successful plants that you see all over the place. They are a little bit “set and forget” in that they tolerate being ignored. You can plant them, trim them, and leave them alone and still get decent results. Their colors are not as complicated as fancier roses, but think of them as starter roses. You get a few, they do well, you learn about roses and feel more confident, and you move into other kinds. There are five Knockout roses outside my office and in three years they have grown to very nice 4′ tall shrubs with lots of blooms.

Bermuda roses – these are a group of plants that are descended from roses that went wild on Bermuda. Their exact pedigree is unknown, but they are good for tropical (warm, wet) areas. Relatively new to the market, and not what you will find in most nurseries.

One thing with any rose is: graft or own root? Many roses are grafted onto sturdier roots. This can work very well, so long as the graft is healthy, If it dies, the rootstock takes over and you are left with something that blooms once in the spring and then sprawls. I personally have had some problems with grafted roses, especially after the drought of 2011. On the other hand, there are grafted roses at Redquarters that are still doing well. More and more roses are now available as “own root” or “tissue culture” plants. You do not have the graft problem, but they can be a little delicate at first. If you are in the Midwest or south and mid-Atlantic, grafted roses should do well. Out here, I’m sticking with own-root for the foreseeable future.

*DYC – d-mned yellow composite. Those daisy-like things that are all over the place and are so similar that only their parents can tell them apart.

4 thoughts on “A Rose is a Rose but what Kind of Rose?

  1. I recommend Antonia Ridge’s book ‘For Love of a Rose’, which is the story of the creation of the Peace rose, spanning generations of the French family that perfected it, and the years of war that inspired its name. (If you want a direct link, see http://amzn.to/2qBNqIo .)

  2. You lost me after ‘A Rose’ 🙂 I’d point you at my cousin and her hubby, they are experts on roses… 🙂

  3. “A rose.”

    “What kind?”


    Yup, that would be me. I know several kinds of roses, there are yellow roses, red roses, white roses, and pink roses, and other funny colored crossbreeds. 🙂

    And then there are wild roses, two kinds which are quite common, the one that have a billion little hair thorns like devils club thorns on straight slender stems, and tiny pinkish flowers. Then there are the ones that I swear are crossbred with Himalayan Blackberry briars, the canyon behind my place has areas ten to twenty acres across that are completely taken over by them. They sprawl, climb and grow into shrub bushes when they have nothing better to do :). I have seen them in multiple colors but yellow seems to be the most common locally, mainly they seem to produce lots of thorns and some rose hips, the flowers don’t last long, or don’t leave near the impression (pun intended) that the thorns do. I have thrown more than one shirt away after having had to go through a patch of these wild roses.

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