Successful Rose Growing, pp. 72-76 (1958)
Albert Norman

ROSES FROM SEED

TO VERY MANY, the idea of growing roses from seed is rather surprising. I suppose it is owing to the fact that, since nearly all woody plants are propagated by means of grafting, budding, layering or cuttings, growing from seed is seldom thought of. The growing of roses from seed is done purely with the intention of raising new varieties. There is nothing very difficult in growing roses from seed, nor is it a long process; in fact, it would surprise many people to know that a rose can be brought into bloom from seed in less time than some annual flowers. With seed sown in the greenhouse in February some will be in bloom by the end of May or early June. Of course, there will not be a plant anything like one sees in the garden as regards size, for all we shall have is a tiny plant about six inches high, with one stem about as thick as a matchstick, four leaves and a small flower on the top. Such is a rose on its entry into the world.

As I said before, the raising of new roses is not difficult. Every one that is raised will be unlike the parent which provided the seed. Difficulties arise, however, when an attempt is made to raise roses which are an improvement on existing varieties. If seed is gathered from plants in the garden by collecting the heps in the autumn, new roses can be raised from them, but it is very unlikely that one would be raised which is an improvement on the parent. The reason for this is that roses are bisexual, that is they have the male and female organs combined in the same flower, as distinct from unisexual plants such as the melon and marrow, which have the male and female organs in different flowers. Many of the bisexual plants are capable of being fertilized by their own pollen without the agency of bees and other insects, and, since the pollen of roses is ripe before the petals have expanded, there is so little chance of cross-fertilization that one cannot hope to effect an improvement on the plant that is selected from seed. For instance, if the seed of Madame Butterfly was gathered from a plant growing in the garden and sown, the seedlings would have certain of the characteristics of that variety in leaf and habit, but all the flowers would be pale and uninteresting, and not nearly as good as the parent flower. If, on the other hand, roses were pollinated by bees visiting the flowers, it would be quite possible, with luck, to raise roses of great worth.

It must be realized that modern roses are a long way removed from their wild ancestry, and, in the Damask rose for instance, there is no record of it ever having a wild parent with single blooms, as have all wild roses. It is the fact that our modern roses have such a long and mixed ancestry that makes the hybridization of them such an uncertain procedure. For instance, if one should make a cross of two pure species of wild roses the result would be the same each time with slight variations. When we come to the present-day roses it is only when we know that certain of them come from a long line of a particular colour that we can be reasonably sure of perpetuating that colour.

We know that the parentage of many red roses goes back in a direct line to the old Hybrid Perpetual, Général Jacqueminot, and so, if red roses are crossed, the progeny will also be reds of various shades, some light carmine and others of a very deep crimson. When I raised Ena Harkness it came in a batch of eighty seedlings all from the one cross of Crimson Glory and Southport, and, except for William Harvey which came from a seed with two kernels and produced identical twins, no two roses were alike. About fifty per cent were scentless, which is what one might expect when an unscented variety like Southport is used. One might be inclined to remark, why use an unscented rose for a parent if some of the progeny are sure to be without scent. The reason is this: Southport, in spite of being scentless, has a very brilliant colour which it keeps until the petals fall, a character which it is very desirable to perpetuate. One other important thing is that Southport produces seed quite readily which germinates quite well when sown. Crimson Glory, on the other hand, has the great fault that the blooms fade to a very unpleasant colour, especially in wet weather. On the credit side it has a very vigorous habit which Southport lacks.

From this it is fairly easy to see the whole purpose of systematic cross-fertilization: to get a variety with the non-fading colour in the bloom of Southport, and with the vigour and scent of Crimson Glory. At one time it was believed that the seed parent gave the vigour of the plant and the male or pollen parent the colour, and that was the principle that hybridists worked on, but it is no longer thought to be true. On one occasion, being without the necessary pollen of Mrs. Sam McGredy, I used the pollen of the climbing form of that variety and the result was a number of seedlings with the climbing habit.

On the whole it is good practice to use a seed-bearing variety with a good sound constitution. Unfortunately, although some of the best characters are transmitted to the offspring, so are the bad ones, only more so, and it is only when the plant has grown for a year or two that its faults are manifest. If the only faults one need expect were those inherent in the two varieties being crossed, the chances of raising perfect roses would be greatly increased, but there are always the imperfections of previous generations which will keep cropping up time after time. A defect that one is liable to get more than anything else is lack of petals. This can be seen by the large number of highly coloured roses which are to be found in the rose growers’ catalogues. In the majority of instances, bright colour and heavy petalage do not coincide. One has only to look at some of our large, full roses—Mrs. Charles Lamplough, President Charles Hain, Rex Anderson, Directeur Guérin, Sir Henry Segrave, Oswald Seiper and many more, all pale roses. For many years I have crossed McGredy's Yellow with Phyllis Gold in the hope of getting a yellow with more petals; the result has been large full roses of an off-white colour or medium-sized yellow ones with few petals. This is one of the inherited characteristics of Julien Potin coming out in the seedlings. All those who have grown Julien Potin must have observed that the large blooms have very little of the glorious yellow which is present in the smaller blooms. Phyllis Gold, which was the result of a Julien Potin cross, has almost the same characteristics, only the smaller and few-petalled blooms having the deep yellow colour. The difficulty is that all our yellow roses are direct descendants of the Austrian brier, which was responsible for introducing this colour in our roses; so until someone obtains a yellow rose from another parent we shall not get the yellow rose that is needed.