Category Archives: Roses

Into the Unknown

Face it, it happens to every gardener at one time or another, you order a rose from someone and it turns out to be something else.  Sometimes you recognize what it is and make the decision to keep it or ‘prune it with the shovel.’  But every now and then the unknown rose is just interesting enough and the detective in you just has to find out what this mystery rose is!

I am in just such a situation with a rose in the Shakespeare Garden, it was ordered years back from Canada, Pickering Nursery I think, as ‘York and Lancaster.’  ‘York and Lancaster’ is a rose that should be in every Shakespeare Garden (isn’t in yours?), it tells the story of how the Tudors came about to end the War of the Roses and combine the York and Lancaster clans in the dynasty founded by Henry VII and exemplified by his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I.  

The problem is that the rose I planted has single petaled, red flowers.  Decidedly not ‘York and Lancaster’. The mystery plant is tall, growing to eight feet or so, with reddish brown canes and small hooked, wicked prickles at the nodes.  The foliage is rough, with almost quilted ribbing and dark green.  The flowers appear in early spring and open to medium red, single flowers, with prominent yellow stamen.  They are lovely, but continue to elude identification.  

The closest I have been able to come to an ID is Rosa cinnamomea (R. majalis), the “Cinnamon Rose.”  The problem here is, that species should have red-purple flowers and this mystery rose is true red.  The “Cinnamon Rose” got its name not because of any fragrance of cinnamon in the flowers but because of the reddish brown bark of the canes.


Now, you may ask, why all the bother over a simple rose ID? Well, I work for a Botanical Garden and we are supposed to have our plants identified and correctly labeled.  In most cases a mystery plant like this rose would have been discarded long ago and replaced with the correct cultivar. It’s just this unknown is so lovely and generates a lot of interest from visitors that I can’t harden my heart and dig her up!

It’s not like I plan to exhibit this rose in a Rose Show and could only do so with the approved name.  No, but we do have a collections policy and at some point I do have to come to a decision to keep or discard.  So far I have leaned towards keeping her and planting the true ‘York and Lancaster’ in another part of the garden.  

Who would have thought a rose curator’s job could be so difficult?

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