The Rose Annual (1983) pp. 134-137
Rosa moschata and R. brunonii
GRAHAM STUART THOMAS, OBE, VMH, DHM

The great Musk Rose Mystery, having puzzled past generations of rosarians, looks set to vex future ones, too. We had a study of it by Léonie Bell in the 1981 Annual, to which our great authority on old roses now makes reply.

Rosa moschata may be said to be an unfortunate rose. In spite of being known and described in various Floras of Southern Europe it has never been found indisputably wild. It has long been known to gardeners in this country. It was described by Gerard in 1597 and by Parkinson in 1629 and subsequently by several noted botanists. All concur in describing its late flowering habit (July onwards), its sweet scent and its height up to 12 ft or so. William Paul, the famous nurseryman of Cheshunt, included it in his catalogues, as did the equally famous Thomas Rivers of Sawbridgeworth, both in the 19th century.

R. moschata belongs to a section of the genus called Synstylae, on account of the styles being joined in a column in the centre of the flower and not being held loosely in a bunch as in other roses. The species of the Synstylae section occur in different countries all round the Northern Hemisphere. One of these species was found in Nepal by Nathaniel Wallich and was named R. brunonii by Lindley in 1820. This species occurs in various parts of the Himalayan Region from Nepal to western China, and is very variable. It was figured in the Botanical Magazine in 1843, from a plant at Kew which may of course have been growing for several years before it was depicted. Wallich had indeed sent seeds in 1822. Andrews’ R. napaulensis first flowered in 1823. In 1824 Lindley published R. moschata var nepalensis. I think there is no doubt that these names all refer to one variable species, which should be called R. brunonii because this has priority. In fact, in Plantae Wilsonianae, Vol II, 1915, Rehder specifically states that the Chinese plant differs slightly from Lindley’s type species in its glabrous shoots, but that some specimens collected in India also show this character.

Regarding the plates in the Rose Annual for 1981, certain artists’ licence is apparent, to say nothing of artists’ inaccuracies, such as the flowering shoot of Lindley’s 1820 figure of R. brunonii growing out of the stem in the wrong direction (compared with the growth of the prickles) and the totally inaccurate shape of the prickles in

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shaped. The latter is a lax shrub up to 12 ft or so, with leaves not unlike those of R. canina; the petals roll back at the edges from a flat or even reflexed flower. Whether growing in the garden or dried on a herbarium sheet they could not be confused.

In her final paragraph Léonie Bell raises a query that had long occupied me. What rose did the late Dr C. C. Hurst take for his R. moschata? It will be recalled that he considered R. moschata to be one of the parents of the Autumn Damask, but R. phoenicia to be one of the parents of the summer flowering Damask rose; the second parent of each Damask is presumed to be R. gallica. (See my book The Old Shrub Roses, Dent 1955, revised 1979) In the absence of any other evidence it seems likely that the Autumn Damask owes its repeat flowering habit to R. moschata. But this possibility did not apparently open Hurst’s eyes to the fact that the immense climbing rose in the University Botanic Garden, which flowered only at midsummer, was not the true R. moschata, but R. brunonii. Being in Cambridge for the Sesquicentenary of the Botanic Garden in July 1981, I took the trouble to examine Hurst’s herbarium specimens, so carefully annotated by the late Rona Hurst, his wife. There is no doubt that his "R. moschata" was, in every instance, R. brunonii. Furthermore, while a student I made a complete inventory of everything growing in the Garden. The great "R. moschata" occurs among the plants growing on the Hill above the water garden but on the bed of species roses was growing 'Rivers’ Musk'. This occurs also in his herbarium specimens, separately, and attributed to Rivers; though I do not remember the actual plant, it was obviously related to R. moschata. On referring to Thomas Rivers’ The Rose Amateur’s Guide, 1872, and to William Paul’s The Rose Garden, I find this was a pink rose, though the herbarium specimen looks much like R. moschata. From all this I deduce that Hurst never worked with the genuine R. moschata.

Shortly before the last war I received from the famous Daisy Hill Nurseries, Newry, County Down, a rose, among others, labelled R. moschata autumnalis. The name has no foundation and I have not seen the rose elsewhere, except among plants that could be traced to our subsequent propagation of this variety. It is depicted in Figure 4 of my Climbing Roses and New.

There is no doubt it is a close relative of R. moschata and both Léonie Bell and I think there is little doubt that it is an old Noisette described by Mrs Gore in her The Rose Fancier’s Manual of 1838, under the name of 'Princesse de Nassau'. It was raised by Laffay in 1835. The old French descriptions concur with mine; the double yellowish flowers, expanding from red-tinged buds, but becoming creamy white, the downy stalks of foliage, and the zig-zag branches. It is also described by Roy E. Shepherd in his History of the Rose 1954 and by Rose Kingsley in Roses and Rose Growing, 1998. It is a useful semi-climbing rose, or lax shrub, which (unless on a warm wall) does not flower before July or early August, and continues until autumn, producing short flights of exceedingly sweet-scented flowers with the typical trait of R. moschata, that of holding the buds erect, which on opening quickly nod. Since R. 'moschata autumnalis' is an unfounded name I suggest that it be changed to 'Princess de Nassau'. This hybrid, R. moschata and R. brunonii all grow well at Mottisfont, a property of the National Trust in Hampshire.