PHOTO: By Elizabeth Roth
Fossil evidence suggests that roses flourished at least 32 million years ago. Besides being incredibly ancient it is interesting to note that roses originated only in the Northern Hemisphere. These ancient roses have been divided into four groups by their place of origin: Europe, America, the Middle East and the Orient.
Most roses in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes Europe, America and the Orient were essentially pink. The species which, were native to America, had the least variation in the colour pink, though they bloomed later than their European cousins. The European roses displayed a much richer variety of the shade of pink; anywhere from pale blush pink to deep crimson pink. Also rose form was more diverse. White also existed amongst the rose species. Pink was also present in the species from the Orient, however they also possessed the ability to repeat bloom. Thus, the civilized Europeans indulged in their various beautiful whites and pinks (even their reds were more like crimson).Then somewhere in the 18th Century, yellow wild roses were discovered growing in the Middle East. Wild roses from Afghanistan and Southwest Asia blossomed in colours from pale yellow to deep sulphur. When these were brought back to Europe they caused a sensation. Immediately they were planted and the first attempts at hybridization with yellow roses took place.
There are three yellow species roses, which formed the foundation for modern yellow rose hybrids: Rosa Ecae, Rosa Foetida and Rosa Hemisphaerica. Rosa Ecae is native to Afghanistan. It is a small, very thorny shrub with reddish brown wood and ferny leaves. The blossoms resemble buttercups and it is not a hardy rose, preferring warmer climates. Rosa Foetida is a huge rose sometimes reaching 8 feet in height. Its stems are chestnut brown and its thorns are black. Blooms are a good size, true yellow and with yellow stamens. Rosa Hemisphaerica, also known as the “sulphur” rose, is native to Southwest Asia. Not only are the blooms a lovely pure yellow, they are also double. The bushes themselves grow to approximately 6 feet tall and are covered in gray-green foliage. To imagine this rose’s particular scent, remember, it is referred to as the “sulphur rose.”
The Dutch and the French particularly engaged in hybridizing. Whereas before the 18th Century there were approximately 24 rose species in existence in Europe, by the end of the 18th Century there were more than 1,000 varieties of roses. Most of these were still in shades of pink, crimson or white.
With the advent of the yellow genes being hybridized into European roses came a weakness: blackspot. The yellow rose species were not capable of resistance to this dreadful fungal disease. Also yellow roses were not as vigorous as their pink and white cousins and they did not smell good. Some of them emitted a scent reminiscent of “decay.” However, with time and patience, the hybridizers began turning out some lovely creations. Most of the initial yellow roses still suffered blackspot and were not terribly vigorous, but the blooms began to take on fuller shapes, pleasant fragrance and varying shades from pale lemon to almost peach/copper.
Yellow roses have come a long way since that first introduction. Many of the modern
species of yellow roses have had disease resistance bred into them.
They demonstrate tremendous vigor both as
shrubs and climbers and come in a variety of flower form from single to densely
petal packed doubles in many glorious shades of pale lemon creams, deep golds,
true yellows, buff yellows, peach yellows, and coppery yellows.
In addition, the rather undesirable scent
characteristics prevalent in the original species roses have been bred out and
replaced by more pleasing perfumes!
(By Andrea Grant)