Ten things you (maybe) never knew about roses

A little digging in the Library uncovers some interesting facts about this forever favourite flower

Rosa canina, watercolour by Lydia Renrose, early 19th centuryThe RHS Lindley Library has been taken over by roses this summer as we launch rose-themed exhibitions at our London branch, the RHS London Rose Show and all our gardens. In the course of our research we have uncovered some fascinating facts about the nation’s favourite flower.

  1. Rosa canina, the dog rose, is Britain’s commonest and most widespread wild rose. 
  2. Regional names for Rosa canina include ‘Hedgy-Pedgies’, ‘Dg-jobs’, ‘Nippernails’ and ‘Soldiers’
  3. The roots of the dog rose were once thought to cure rabies, hence the Latin name Rosa canina
  4. The famous 15th century Wars of the Roses, named after the rose emblems of the Houses of York and Lancaster, did not get that name until 1829 when author Sir Walter Scott based the title on the fictional scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I.  
  5. Rosier Ayrschire, lithograph from Roses et rosiers, 1873Roses were amongst the first categories of ornamental flowers to be commercially hybridised when the Scottish nursery Dickson & Brown, of Perth, cultivated sports from their local wild Scotch ‘Burnet Rose’ in 1793. 
  6. Tea roses are said to have been so named thanks to the faint tea aroma of their blooms.  However the name may also reflect the fact that the ‘parent’ roses were introduced via the China tea-trade routes. 
  7. The best-selling rose ever? Possibly a Hybrid Tea named ‘Peace’ (originally called ‘Mme A. Meilland’) which was introduced at the end of the Second World War. 
  8. Rosa centifolia foliacea, engraved plated from Pierre-Joseph Redouté's Les Roses, 1819-1824The Empress Joséphine with her famous garden at Malmaison is closely associated with roses, indeed a well known rose cultivar 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' was created in 1843 by Lyon rose breeder Jean Béluze. However it is far from certain that Malmaison was a particularly great rose garden. Josephine was fascinated by all kinds of novel garden plants, acquiring plants from all over the world, even during the height of the Napoleonic Wars. Her association with roses probably owes much to her patronage of the botanical artist, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) who created one of the finest books of rose illustrations, entitled Les Roses
  9. Roses were voted the nation's most loved... and most hated plant, according to a poll run by BBC Gardeners' World in 2009. In a vote by 7,500 gardeners, thorns and susceptibility to disease were named as the main drawbacks of roses. 
  10. Roses do not have thorns. We usually call the sharp spikes on the stem of a rose bush ‘thorns’ but they are in fact technically prickles. Botanically speaking, rose prickles are extensions of the cortex and epidermis and are comparable to hairs (whereas thorns are modified branches or stems). 


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