The International Herb Association

Rosa
rō-zå

Arthur O. Tucker

Ed. Note: This chapter is updated and modified slightly from The Encyclopedia of Herbs, co-authored by Arthur O. Tucker and Thomas DeBaggio, ed. by Francesco DeBaggio, published by Timber Press (2009).


Family: Rosaceae
Growth form: shrubs 2 to 30 feet (61 cm to 9 m)
Hardiness: many routinely hardy to Zone 6
Light: full sun
Water: moist but not constantly wet
Soil: well-drained garden loam
Propagation: cuttings or grafts
Culinary use: salads, desserts
Craft use: potpourri, sachets, beads
Landscape use: shrubbery or rear of herb border

French: rosier
German: Rose
Dutch: roos
Italian: rosa
Spanish: rosa, gavanzo, escaramujo
Portuguese: roseira
Swedish: ros
Russian: rosa
Chinese: ch'iang-wei, mei-kuei
Japanese: bara
Arabic: ward(a)

Gertrude Stein's "A rose is a rose is a rose" strikes us as pitifully naive when you consider that the genus Rosa includes about 100 species of the temperate regions to tropical mountains and thousands of different named cultivars. The genus Rosa derives its name from the Latin, rosa, in turn from the Greek, rhodon, which, in turn, was derived the original Indo-European root-word, ward, still retained in the Arabic.

As implied from such an ancient Indo-European origin of the name, roses have been cultivated since ancient times; we find, for example, the depiction of what may be R. pulverulenta in the House of Frescoes at Knossos dated to around 1400 B.C. Roses have enthralled humans for their beauty of form and scent down through the ages, and today we use rose petals for perfumes, cosmetics, and even salads, while the fruits, known as hips, are high in vitamin C with a tomato-like taste. Roses have long symbolized romance, and we find special pleasure and meaning in being able to grow, touch, and inhale the fragrance of the same rose that grandmother grew in West Virginia or Napoleon's Josephine grew at Malmaison.

Choosing a Rose

The choice of a rose cultivar for its beauty and usefulness is an individual choice, but the nursery's methods of producing roses should be an important consideration as well. Roses sold today in North America and Europe are usually budded upon one of three different rootstocks, R. canina, R. multiflora Thunb., or 'Dr. Huey,' but some companies sell plants grown on their own roots ("own-root roses"). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Generally, most heritage roses perform better with their own roots, but modern hybrids such as teas and floribundas, whose own roots tend to be weak, do better grafted to a more vigorous rootstock. Some own-root roses often produce shoots from their own roots called suckers, especially if they have R. gallica ancestry; these suckers can be as troublesome as spreading mints and as difficult to manage. 'Dr. Huey' rootstock is fine for the sandy, alkaline soils of California and Texas, but for the acid soils of the northeastern United States, either R. canina or R. multiflora is preferred. For Florida and other subtropical areas, R. xfortuniana Lindl. is a must as a rootstock because of the combination of heat and nematodes. The choice of the rootstock is almost as important as the grafted scion, and if the commercial company which sells the rose you desire does not give that information in their catalog, write or call them.

Also look for grading of the budded roses and buy only grade 1 to 1 1/2; these are the top grades awarded to plants with more canes and higher quality. An indication of a really good company is authentication that their budwood and rootstock have been indexed as virus-free. Expect, even with the best of companies, some misidentification, and if the company does not admit fault or refer you to a source for authentication, you may wish to look for another source.

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Dr. Arthur O. Tucker is Research Professor and Co-Director of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium at Delaware State University in Dover, DE. He is the author of numerous scientific and popular publications, including The Encyclopedia of Herbs (Timber Press, 2009). He has been a member of IHA since its inception. He is gradually re-inventing himself as a ferro-concrete artist.

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