Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rose Classifications

While this blog is all about roses, it's not about all of them. Today there are more than forty-eight official rose classifications in commerce in the United States, including ancient varieties. We don't profess to be an expert on all of them, but we do understand those called modern, more particularly hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras. These three types of modern roses, plus miniatures and climbers, which we'll also consider, make up more than 90 percent of the rosebushes sold in America. These are the roses with which we'll discuss in this blog.

Are you wondering when did roses become modern? All but the grouchiest of rosarians agree that it was with the introduction of La France by Guillot Fils in 1867. This rose, the prototype of what we now call the hybrid tea, was just what the nineteenth-century rose breeders were looking for-a large, double (sixty petals) flower with a long, pointed bud. But the real find was La France's enviable habit of producing blooms with the fabulous form that we now call classic formal. It was a welcome shot in the arm for developers of new rose varieties, who scrambled to include pollen from La France on their hybridizing palettes.

Modern roses are so different from those now called old that it's impossible to lump the two together. Some older varieties flower only once per season, while most modern rosebushes bloom repeatedly. Growth habits differ too, with modern rosebushes being more bush-like than the shrubby older ones. Mostly, though, it's in the form of the blossoms that they are so different--older roses are essentially more decorative. Less importance is placed on the form of individual blooms. With the modern varieties the form of the bloom is vital.

Before you can be expected to appreciate varying forms, you must learn the basic differences between the three types of modern roses we'll be talking about. While there are several ways of distinguishing between hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras, the easiest pertains to blossoms and blooming characteristics.

Hybrid Teas

These are the classic one-to-a-stem roses. Hybrid teas are capable of producing clustered blooms--and will if you don't follow the disbudding (bud removal) procedures described later--but aesthetic perfection for this variety is one bloom per stem. And should you care to exhibit your roses, hybrid teas must almost always be shown this way.

The "hybrid" portion of the name refers to hybridizer's efforts to mix rose lineage and come up with something new. "Tea" refers to the fact that they are descended from the tea rose, which originated in China. Also, the fragrance of hybrid teas is thought to be similar to that of fresh tea leaves.


These are roses hybridized to grow in clusters. The disbudding tactic is the opposite of that for the hybrid tea, as it is aimed at producing multiple blooms at the end of one stem. Though there are great exceptions, floribunda bushes are usually low in stature, making them perfect for foreground planting.


These are the newest roses on the scene. Continued hybridizing of the floribunda resulted in seedlings that had the blooming characteristics of the floribunda (with multiple blooms on one stem), but whose blossoms were formed more like those of the hybrid tea. That's why, the new category of grandiflora. Though some are low, most grandifloras tend to be tall growers and to make majestic background plantings.

Classification of roses in the United Kingdom is far more sensible than in the United States. Recognizing the inevitable danger of confusion with the floribunda, the British never adopted a grandiflora class. They've even dropped the use of hybrid tea and floribunda classifications for rose exhibition. Instead, they refer to either "large-flowered" or "clustered-flowered" blooms. There are sound reasons behind the English classification. Americans, however, must still deal with the three categories just described and do their best to understand the differences among them. It's not always easy.

For instance, it's downright confusing when varieties of one classification grow so disparately. If you see bushes of Angel Face and Sea Pearl growing next to one another, you'll wonder how they both could possibly belong to the floribunda class. On the one hand, Angel Face grows very low, virtually hugging the ground. Sea Pearl, on the other hand, has lofty aspirations and won't stay down.

Rather than expecting varieties of a given classification to perform like their siblings, you will need to learn to consider each variety on its own, allowing also for regional variations that can markedly affect growth habits. Roses can climb, sprawl, hide the ground, grow erect, be trained as a pillar, or cover a wall. Bushes may be small, midsize, or enormous, depending on their natural habits, how they're pruned, and the care they're given. They all, however, possess anatomical similarities with which you might want to familiarize yourself.

Of course, it's impossible to put everything about rose classifications into just one article. But you can't deny that you've just added to your understanding about rose classifications, and that's time well spent.

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