Our National Flower, The Rose

Our National Flower, The Rose

  • By Cleve Campbell
  • /
  • June 2015 - Vol. 1 No. 6

This little adventure involving the rose began several months ago when my wife and I along with several friends were invited to a neighbor’s house for dinner. After a wonderful dinner, our host went to the closet and dug out an old beat-up box that contained the game “Trivial Pursuit.”. Some of you may recall this trivia game.  The one question that stumped all of us was “What is America’s official national flower?” There were all kinds of guesses, but no one got the correct answer. The answer: the rose.  So, friends, the rose is right up there with the bald eagle.

Later that night on the short ride home, my wife suggested that we plant a “rose bush.” Now I must admit that I had heard that roses are high maintenance, prone to diseases and pests, and require a lot of pruning. Well, I thought, that’s just what I need  — another high- maintenance, time-consuming project. So I meekly asked, “Why do we need a rose bush?”  To which my bride responded, “Roses are beautiful and since it is the national flower, we should have a couple.” Well, it must have been that last glass of Cote du Rhone wine that made me reply, “The bald eagle is our national bird, but we don’t own one of those! And matter of fact, it’s illegal to own one.” I can still feel the glare in the car as my wife responded, “No, I don’t have an eagle; just a turkey.” Needless to say, the rest of the trip home was relatively quiet.

Well, my only hope in getting out of the rose-shopping trip was to prove that the rose is not our national flower. No such luck.   In 1986 Congress enacted Public Law 99-499, which decrees that “the flower commonly know as the rose is designated and adopted as the national floral emblem of the United States of America….”  What? Didn’t they have gridlock in Washington back in the 1980’s? Well, apparently they did, since it appears that there had been numerous debates between supporters of the rose and supporters of the marigold. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that without the support of a national floral society and their work in organizing a massive pro- rose grass roots movement to champion the rose, the majestic marigold might be our national flower today.

Well, you guessed right —  off to the local nursery I went to make a rose bush purchase. I was greeted at the nursery by a familiar voice asking, “How may I help you?” When I said that I was looking for a couple of rose bushes, I got that dreaded response:  “What kind?” Since I now knew that the rose was our national flower, I lamely responded, “I was thinking along the lines of red, white and blue.”

“Okay,” responded the clerk, “we have a good inventory of hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, climbers, and Knock Out’s.  What specifically were you looking for?”  I could see that this rose purchase was not going to be as easy as I had figured. I had no clue what he was talking about, so I quietly responded, “Thanks for the help. I think I need to go home and talk to my wife. I’ll be back later.”

On the way home I kept repeating those unfamiliar terms:  hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras, Knock Out’s, climbers.  What in the world was he talking about?  Clearly, I needed to do a little homework before selecting a rose.

As it turns out, there are  3 major categories of roses: species roses, old garden roses, and modern garden roses.

Species Roses

Species or wild roses are the ancestors of the cultivated roses, and  they continue to flourish today. It is estimated that there are 150-200 non-hybridized or wild roses in existence today. They range in size from ground covers to shrubs to climbers. They are hardy and disease-resistant. They are self-pollinating, producing seedlings that (unlike hybrids) duplicate the parent plant. The flowers can be very large and single, or small and in clusters.

Species roses often have only 5 petals and all show yellow stamens at the center. The petals can range in color from white to pink to crimson. Almost all bloom only once, in early summer. The availability of species roses is limited, with perhaps the most available being Rosa rugosa because of its superior hardiness, disease resistance and extremely easy maintenance. The species have been widely hybridized.

Old Garden Roses 

The American Rose Society defines an “old garden rose” as a rose that was known before 1867, the date that the first hybrid rose was introduced. These are the roses found in your grandmother’s garden, not the hybrids commonly seen in modern landscapes.  This group of roses, also known as “antique” roses, prevailed in European gardens in the eighteen century. The roses in this class include damask, Gallic, musk, China, tea, alba, centifolia, Portland, noisette, Bourbon and hybrid perpetual. Each class of Old Garden Rose can have hundreds or thousands of cultivars. For example the hybrid perpetual was thought to have over 4,000 varieties available in the 1880’s.

The size of old garden roses range from small single blooms to huge doubles that may reach 6 inches (Bennett). Often overshadowed by hybrid tea roses in this century, old garden roses appear to be experiencing a comeback. The revival is in part because of historic interest, color and fragrance. Unfortunately, one of the characterstics most closely associated with roses — fragrance — was often hybridized out of the modern rose in favor of flower color and shape. Also, old garden roses often retained more resistance to insects and disease problems, while these attributes may have been neglected in modern hybrids developed primarily for showy blooms. Many old garden roses show a resistance to black spot and other diseases but resistance varies considerably among varieties. Most old varieties tend to be long lived and stable and often require less fertilizer, spraying and nurturing than the modern hybrids. Well, what’s to improve on? For one thing many of the old garden roses only bloomed once in a season, and often the rose plants were vigorous and sprawling, requiring lots of room. The blossoms, often were single, not the more desirable double.  Also, the stems were often short and not suitable for cut flower arrangements.

Modern Roses

The Modern age of growing roses began officially when a new class of roses was developed from a tea/hybrid perpetual cross. The year was 1867; the hybridizer was Jean-Baptiste Guillot, and the rose was the hybrid tea.  Thus began the modern rose era. The hybrid tea rose is the rose most thought of when one mentions roses or Valentine’s Day. It is a favorite of most florists and is thought to be the most popular rose sold; however, the hybrid tea rose is just one of many classes of the modern rose.

Hybrid Tea Roses– What’s not to like about a hybrid tea rose? Hundreds if not thousands of cultivars have been developed since they were first introduced in 1867. They are in almost continous bloom during the season. In general the buds are pointed, long and borne one per stem. When you ask the florists for long stem roses, it’s probably going to be a hybrid tea rose. The size of the plant can range from 3 to 7 feet. Hybrid teas are high maintenance; they require a regular program to prevent and control black spot and mildew diseases. They also require constant pruning during the growing season. .

Polyantha is a rose that descended from China roses and an Asian species rose called Rosa multiflora.  Polyanthas are very hardy and produce large clusters of small flowers, which may be single or double and white, pink, yellow and even orange in color. Polyantha roses tend to have dwarfed bloom and bush features. It is hardy, disease resistant and is a continous bloomer thoughtout the growing season.

Floribunda is a cross between a polyantha and a tea rose. Plants are vigorous with large masses of flowers that resemble miniature hybrid teas. Clusters are abundant and provide a mass of color. Floribundas are elatively short compared to the hybrid tea,  about 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet tall.

Grandiflora This group of roses is a cross between hybrid teas and the floribundas rose. Grandiflora rose plants are generally taller than hybrid teas and bear five to seven blooms on each stem. They make excellent cut flowers and bloom more frequently than hybrid teas. Like hybrid tea roses, grandiflora roses must be monitored for insects and diseases.

Miniature roses generally grow no more than 12-18 inches in height, with some cultivars reaching a maximum height of 6 inches. They are also sometimes referred to as patio roses. They are natural (genetic) dwarfs and have become popular in recent years. Their leaves and flower characteristics are smaller versions of the larger rose types such as hybrid teas or floribundas. Miniatures are grown on their own roots rather than grafted like the larger roses. Their cultural requirements are similar to those of other plants with the exception that they require less space. They make excellent edging plants, especially in front of large plants. They can also be grown in containers indoors with special care. Miniatures are heavy bloomers and produce roses throughout the growing season.

Climbing roses are vigorous growers that send out long shoots or canes that can be trained over fences, arbors, or trellises. They are grouped into several types including ramblers, everblooming, climbers, climbing hybrid teas, climbing floribundas, pillar, and creeping.

Shrub or landscape roses is a catchall category for those roses that don’t fit into other categories. In general, shrub roses are very hardy, disease resistant and require little maintenance, depending of the variety. They can vary in height, from 4 to 12 feet, with many canes and thick foliage making them ideal for hedges as well as background and mass planting. David Austin roses and Knock Out Roses fit into this category.

The American Rose Society  offers the following advice on selecting a planting location for your roses:

Take time to check out the location before you plant your roses. They need at least 6 hours or more of direct sun during their growing season. Morning sun is better because it dries off the dew quickly and helps prevent diseases. A heavily-shaded area will result in foliage growth but few flowers; mildew and black spot diseases are more prevalent in shady areas.

Good air circulation is essential. It aids in rapid evaporation of morning dew, thereby aiding in disease control.

Avoid planting roses near trees and shrubs that have vigorous root systems that can rob you roses of water and nutrients. Roses are poor competitors against this type of intrusions.

Roses prefer slightly acid soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. Take time to do a soil test. You can get a soil testing kit from your local extension office.

Roses love water but do not like wet feet.   Good drainage —  both subsurface and surface — is essential. Think about installing a raised bed.

Thanks for joining us in The Garden Shed.  Hope to see you again next month.


Public Law 99-499, Oct 7, 1987, 99th Congress, Joint Resolution http://www.rose.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/History-of-Roses-China-Roses-Part-One.pdf

University of Illinois Extension, “Different Kinds of Roses” http://extension.illinois.edu/roses/kinds.cfm

Londeree, Nanette, Master Rosarian, “Splendid Species Roses” http://www.marinrose.org/speciesroses.html

Bennet, Ellen S., “Old Garden Roses, “ The Virginia Gardener, Vol.12, No. 8 (August 1993″

Welch, William C., “Landscaping with Old Roses,”Texas A & M Agrilife Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2011/may/old-roses.html

Welch, William C., “Roses,” The Southern Garden,                                              http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/southerngarden/roses1.html

Belendez, Kitty, “Hybrid Tea Roses,” http://scvrs.homestead.com/HybridTeas.html (Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society)

Martin, Robert, B., Jr., “My Favorite Polyantha Rose”, http://scvrs.homestead.com/Polyanthas.html (Santa Clarita Valley Rose Societ)

Belendez, Kitty, “Fabulous Floribunda Roses” http://scvrs.homestead.com/FabFloribundas.html (Master Rosarian, Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society)

University of Illinois Extension, “Grandiflora”, http://extension.illinois.edu/roses/kinds/grandiflora.cfm

Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Publication HO-128W, “Roses”, http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-128.pdf

University of Missouri Extension, Publication G6600, “ Roses: Selecting and Planting”. http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6600

Dardick, Karen, National Gardening Association, “Miniatures Roses for the Hoildays”,


Dardick, Karen, Nation Gardening Association, “Shrub Roses”http://www.garden.org/subchannels/flowers/roses?q=show&id=324&page=4

Siebold, Loren, American Rose Society,  “Aren’t All Roses Shrubs?”.      http://www.rose.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Arent-All-Roses-Shrubs.pdf

University of Maryland Extension, “ A Rose is a Rose…Not Always! Look at Knock Out Landscape Roses” http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/rose-rosenot-always-look-‘knock-out’-landscape-roses

American Rose Society, “Look Towards and Planning the Future” http://www.rose.org/beginners-column


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