The Rose Annual p 34
E.F. Allen, Hon Scientific Adviser
A problem Wild rose.
In September 1979, I wrote an information paper with this title for Council and appealed for members to make observations in the field, with particular reference to the disputed presence of scent in the flowers.
Of the 13 Rosa spp on the British list 11 are Dog Roses (Caninae); which flower in June-July; one, the Scotch Rose (Pimpinellifoliae), commences flowering in May, while R. arvensis (Synstylae) is rarely in full flower until mid-July.
Clapham, Tutin & Warburg, in their Flora of The British Isles, describe it as occurring in "woods, hedgebanks and scrub... Rather common in South England and Wales, becoming very local in North England, very rare in Scotland". More recently Keble Martin has written "Common in South and West, often in shade".
Horwood, in his British Wild Flowers, gives its habitat as "Hedges, thickets and woods". In France, Paul Berthet (Les Amis des Roses, No 338, 1979) writes that it is not found in fields but in woods. Last century W. Hind (Flora of Suffolk, 1889) wrote "frequent in thickets and hedges".
As a boy I, myself, remember the white flowers of R. arvensis as being very common in hedges on the heavier soils of East Anglia but the removal of hedgerows on the boulder clays has now made it locally rare. Indeed in the last 27 years I have searched for this wild rose in many parts of England and have found it growing wild only twice — once in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, on heavy calcareous clay, and once, very commonly, in woods close to Grafham Water, Huntingdonshire, on very heavy clay. I have grown a selected form from the latter site, as a rooted cutting, for many years now on a north-facing wall in our Copdock garden and it flowers splendidly each year. I have always found its flowers to be quite without scent, both by day and by night, in the wild and in cultivation.
Three famous gardener-botanists claim that this rose is scented: Graham Stuart Thomas describes it as "very fragrant" in his Climbing Roses Old and New and re-affirms this in his letter in The Rose, September, 1986; Bertram Park refers to its "small scented white flowers" and Joseph Pemberton, writing in 1908, refers to it having "a sweet scent peculiar to itself".
By contrast most field botanists agree with me:—Hillier & Sons: "little or no fragrance"; B.O. Mulligan (RHS Dictionary of Gardening): "scentless"; Alfred Rehder (L.H. Bailey's Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture): "scentless"; Gordon Rowley in Modern Roses 8: "scentless"; Macgregor Skene in his Flower Book for the Pocket: "scentless"; Ingwer J. Jensen, 1984 Katalog: "duftlos"; and Charlotte Testu, in her splendid book Les Roses Anciennes, shows the wisdom of Solomon and describes the scent as being greatly appreciated by those who can perceive it, for some claim that it has none!
After the circulation of my information paper in 1979, John Watts, in North Wales, made some careful observations in the Conwy area, where the species is common locally, and he reported the flowers as scentless by day but sometimes having a faint scent, just discernible, at dusk in warm weather.
This basic disagreement about scent suggests to me that there may be in cultivation scented hybrids between R. arvensis and the closely related R. sempervirens. Some strains of the latter must certainly be quite hardy since it is recorded in the Flora as "Naturalized in Worcester", and Druce, in Hayward's Botanist's Pocket Book, 1930, also mentions it. Since Stratford-upon-Avon is not far from Worcester could this observation explain William Shakespeare's "sweet musk-roses"?