American Rose Annual 26: 111-115. (1941)
The Search for Total Hardiness
Georges Bugnet

Lake Majeau, Alberta, Canada,
(Originally scanned and distributed by Henry Kuska)

EDITORS' NOTE.—What follows is another document to prove that roses are seemingly a biologic necessity for man. Undeterred by conditions, this Canadian is using his opportunities, and especially his brains, in the search, using also a kindly philosophy as he works. He isn't competing for the Middle States market—he wants better roses right where he is. Readers should refer to two articles in the 1940 Annual, by T. L. Skinner (page 83) and Percy H. Wright (page 84).

We northern farmers have been expecting far too much from our experimental stations which, thanks especially to Dr. Charles Saunders, had won for us at Chicago most of the wheat championships, working farther north, to rest, for three successive years, up in the Peace River country, nearly 250 miles northwest of Edmonton, the capital of Alberta.

But, of course, with roses and fruit trees the game cannot be played so fast. Northern farmers threw away possibly millions of dollars, importing this, and this, and that, before coming to the conclusion, particularly about roses, that not one variety could be said to be here winter-proof, save the wild native.

Since the early twenties my boys, beginning one after the other to help with the farm work, gave me leisure to enter a still open field and dabble at first with stone fruits and next with roses. No spectacular results have yet been obtained. As a matter of fact it may be said that after some fifteen years of steady work on a rather small scale, experimenting with the Queen of Flowers is still in the primary grade. Yet, the friends of the rose may, perhaps, find some interest in the story of the novel effort.

While man, elsewhere, can boast of his mastery over Nature, in Canada one does not need to go very far north before perceiving the strength and majesty of the unseen, discovering his own puny size and consequently falling in a much humbler mood.

Under the 54th degree of latitude, at 2,300 feet of altitude, roses have to withstand, besides a very dry atmosphere and a rather scanty rainfall, burning temperatures up to 130° in the sun during summer and, in winter, cold down to -50° and sometimes more than -60° with, as a rule, owing to the Chinook winds, less than 6 inches of snow.

Yet all this, for the brave little wild rose, is nothing at all. In the middle of the summer the whole country, up to the Arctic seas, unfurls countless millions of rose buds, pale pink to bright red, each plant blossoming for two to three weeks; each plant a greater marvel than any invention of man and, thank God, perfectly useless, so far, for war purposes!

It is, of course, with the help of this native race of practically unknown possibilities that we northern amateurs hope to achieve something worth while. Many years ago I began by using the pollen of a local native rose, then called Rose blanch, now known as R. Macouni, upon R. rugosa kamtchatica. The seedlings showed the dominance of the Rugosa in the foliage, in the stronger growth, in the larger single blooms with quite a variety of deeper and velvety hues. To follow this first trail, one of the seedlings later on was married to R. amblyotis, a red Siberian wild rose. The result was a very strong-growing shrub, 7 to 8 feet tall, with vivid red, single blooms from the end of June until the end of July; canes very hairy, thorns being pliant, somewhat like hard rubber.

Later on the pollen of this new shrub was used on R. rugosa flore pleno. Part of the seedlings have flowers with 18 to 20 petals, glowing pink or light red, while one has a large single bloom of a beautiful deep velvety crimson. Others have not yet come into bloom. During the past summer the pollen of Golden Dream and Conrad F. Meyer was successfully applied on a plant of these latest hybrids. (Each advance takes five years.)

Exploring another trail, some fifteen years ago the pollen of another native was placed on R. rugosa flore pleno. Part of the offspring, 5 to 6 feet tall, gave single, and part semi-double flowers. These last have 12 to 17 petals, are 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches across, deep vivid pink, fragrant, of course, and with very abundant bloom from the middle of June into August. One has been named Nipsya. Two years ago a friend living in the Peace River country wrote me that Nipsya was the only rose which passed through the winter unscathed, the only one which bloomed the following summer. It is not unlike the Tetonkaha of Dr. Hansen, but is apparently much hardier and does not seem to sucker so badly. On this last point I am in doubt; a different soil might tell the other way.

Once its hardiness was ascertained, Nipsya was crossed with various other roses. With Frau Dr. Erreth, a thornless double yellow Polyantha, all seedlings, so far, are only half hardy, flowers very small, about the size of a 25-cent piece, practically single, the parental red or yellow shades being conspicuous by their absence. Pollenized with Perle d'Or, Nipsya gave some seedlings which appear promising as to hardiness, the bloom being yet to be seen. Nipsya has also given seed from pollen of Mrs. John Laing, Conrad F. Meyer, Goldener Traum, Mrs. A. R. Barraclough, and others. The future will show the success or failure of these attempts. In our climate, one can hardly come to any conclusion before the plants do come through five or six winters. But, so far, even with tender hybrids bred here, the roots and lower part of the stems always do survive. However, not one of these new roses having until now bloomed on current-year wood, hardiness of the roots does not help. Perhaps it may later on! As to direct crosses between the native rose and Hybrid Teas, no good result has been obtained up to date.

Total hardiness is the first requisite. New seedlings usually receive fair, but not too good care during their first months, and again for another season following transplanting. After that they are left to themselves. Such a test has shown that quite a few can hold their ground, like the native rose, against all corners.

*The italics are the Editor's comment on the spirit of Mr. Bugnet.

My idea is not so much to add new varieties to the gardens of the city-dweller as to produce tough stuff for my fellow farmers who, have no time to coddle tender plants, or "pHize" their soil.*

With a much longer experience, on a larger scale, in stone-fruits breeding, I am led to believe that a plant, in order to withstand our climate, needs a very early ripening of its tissues. Winter-killing, apparently, is not caused by extreme cold but rather by a too early cold snap catching immature wood, like the 30° below we had in the first part of November last. Once, at dawn, on October 12, 1930, we had 16° below zero. The next day was rather warm. None of my hardy hybrids and no native tree or shrub suffered. I have often noticed that half-hardy plum or apple trees here, unhurt by December 1, passed unharmed through the rest of the winter no matter how intense the cold.

Native trees here, as a rule, put out their leaves around the middle of May and drop them near the end of September. Roses have also to be brought to an early ripening of their tissues.

Of this, a typical example is that of another Canadian native. Some years ago I received seed of a wild rose quite common near the shores of the Arctic Ocean. One of the seedlings gave a bloom when it was just twelve months old, on the first of May, which was six full weeks before the natives around here. These seedlings, each year, seem to know their business until July. Then they try to drop their leaves and go to sleep. But some of them, during the past two seasons, thought better of it, and bloomed again, very diffidently, during August. Such early roosters should prove useful to impart into tame roses an earlier maturing of the wood. It will take a few years to ascertain the value of this hope.

Genetics have not proved greatly useful. While I certainly do admire the works of the scientists, and there is no disputing their findings, yet, to tell the full truth, I do not repose absolute faith in their present conclusion—if they can ever reach any. Why? Because I always harbor a lurking suspicion that, one of these days, our notion of the "gene" will go the same way as that of the atom. Again why? Because, in my young days, we were taught as a dogma in chemistry that the atom at least was a real "unit," indivisible, eternal, something perfectly safe to count with. Only, due to some doubting Thomases, this eternity and unity of the atom was short lived. The poor fellow was exploded into no one knows how many pieces; so that, now, in nature, we cannot find a thing that is a real "unit." A rose can only get what is in the parents, and we do not fully know what is and what is not in the parents, each pedigree going back, possibly into millions of years.

Nevertheless, in stone-fruit crosses I have obtained, on one side, very weak and tender plants out of sturdy parents; on the other side, hardy children out of two parents that are not hardy. Hardiness sometimes seems to come less from good or poor qualities in the parents than from what maybe styled a good working order of the genes in the child. Although such an example of unexpected hardiness has not been so far noticed in my rose hybrids, there is no reason why this path should be closed.

At the present time no one can tell how long will be this work. Fair success might come out of just one mating; more likely it will require a great many. Thanks to Dr. McFarland who, unasked, sent me very useful information, I may be able to hasten the hour of victory. Be that as it may, one can hardly wish, in these years of terrible wars, for a more pleasant "job," than that of endeavoring to obtain, for the benefit of man new favors, new clean and long-lasting gifts, through patient cooperation with that mysteriously and magnificently creative power which some call God, and some others Nature, meaning, after all, the same thing, the same unfathomable entity.


CybeRose note: Hardiness in roses is not a simple trait. To be fully hardy in a given climate a rose must go dormant before the first killing frosts of Autumn, remain dormant during warm warm spells that may occur in Winter, and continue to sleep (or grow slowly) late enough in Spring to avoid late frosts.

See Rosen on late Spring dormancy.