Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 27: 482-492 (1902/3)
SOME WILD ASIATIC ROSES
Maurice L. de Vilmorin, F.R.H.S.

THE introduction into European gardens about a century ago of several Asiatic Roses was a decisive step in the way of the renovation and improvement of our Rose collections.

The Tea-scented or Indica Rose, the Rosa semperflorens, the dark-coloured Rosa chinensis, the Moschata, have been the means of the creation of several series of new and beautiful shades of colour, and of the perpetual bloomers; while the double Rosa lutea, or Persian yellow, the Rosa sulphurea are supplying new and rich tones.

Are we to look to the opening of the present century for a similar transformation by the crossing of some of the present varieties with the Rosa rugosa, a species inferior to none in respect of the size and continuity of the flowers, beauty of the foliage, and hardiness? We may, indeed, hope to see some achievements in that line, when we consider some of the results obtained by the hybridisers of different countries, and, for instance, some Roses recently originated in the garden of my respected friend, M. Gravereaux, at L'Haÿ.

But my subject is to speak of the wild Asiatic Roses, and I have to adhere to the schedule. This is comprehensive enough, and I must leave much of the subject untouched. All the wild Asiatic Roses are not yet introduced into cultivation, although some new ones are coming, as Mr. George Nicholson is soon to explain; all the introduced ones are not in my garden, and on some of my Asiatic Roses there is no present matter for remarks that would interest amateurs. I shall accordingly speak of only some few species which are peculiarly familiar to me and worthy of cultivation.

The introduction of the Musk Rose (Rosa moschata) into the gardens of France is said to date from the last years of the sixteenth century, and this well-known Rose has been naturalised in the countries that encircle the Mediterranean Sea. But the type that is most familiar to us comes from India and Persia. The varieties I have raised from Chinese seeds are, in my judgment, superior to that type. The shoots are somewhat shorter, more numerous, curved, and bear an abundant and rich foliage more rounded, consistent and glossy, than in the Indian plant. The flowers are somewhat larger and more substantial, and the dark tint of the foliage makes them appear of purer white. This variety is as hardy as the Indian type, possibly hardier, and will succeed in sunny positions in the South of England. It blooms and seeds after three or four years. (Fig. 134.)


Fig. 134.—Rosa moschata var. densa

The Rosa Soulieana of Crépin is closely allied to the Moschata so far as the structure of the flower is concerned. In both cases the bud is of a pale yellow colour before it opens, the flower turns promptly to a pure white, and the styles are pressed into one narrow column, but the general aspect is totally different. With its thick branches, bearing a number of rather short, very prickly branchlets, and the leaves of a dull green, the plant bears all the appearance of a very bushy Dog Rose. It flowers late but profusely. The corymbs of the white flowers, not larger than the Roses of the common Brier, mixed with the yellowish buds, make it beautiful for some time. It then passes through an unattractive period. The petals generally adhere too strongly to the receptacle and wither on the fruit. This, however, is soon passed, and in the autumn the bush is gay with a mass of small orange berries.

The creeping Japanese Rose (Wichuraiana) is well known and appreciated as a pillar rose. Of its horticultural hybrid products I have not to speak. I only mention the result of an experiment to ascertain how long the screen of its drooping shoots could practically be. I planted a row near the top of a 6 to 8 feet deep trench, one side being a vertical wall edged by somewhat overhanging stones. In these conditions the shoots reached the bottom of the trench the second year after planting, but on account of the prevailing winds they were continually thrown back over the wall, and some artificial devices were needed to attain the desired effect.

Of the Roses in the Indica group I express, with many others, the wish to see some day true native plants from countries where they grow uncultivated, particularly the several types of the series: Rosa indica fragrans, R. semperflorens, R. chinensis.

I have not succeeded with attempts to grow the Rosa gigantea of Collett in the open, even against walls in my garden in Central France. The plant thrives in one or two places on the French Riviera. Interesting crossings are being made by M. Cayeux at the Botanical Garden of Lisbon.

We must now join the larger battalion of the corps of the Asiatic Roses, the Cinnamomeae, and it is not possible to pass further without saluting that grand Rose, the Rugosa, one of the finest, if not the finest, of all the Wild Roses. It is second to none of the hardy Roses for the size of its flowers, and the richness and the design of its foliage; and if it is beautiful when the summer brings back the time of its long blossoming season, it is equally worth admiration when autumn colours the large fruits with scarlet and the foliage with gold-and-fire touches.

A closely allied species, but much smaller, Rosa coruscans (Link), is well worth cultivation. The foliage is very abundant, and its form is still more elegant; the pink flowers are comparatively very large and the fruits very fine. I should suggest to cut back its branches halfway, and the oldest ones even shorter, to procure their renewal; but I think Rugosa will be finer without any, or with a very discreet, pruning.

The Beggeriana, a native of Persia and Turkestan, is not commended by its size, and still less by the odour (a decidedly bad one) of its flower. The undue spreading of its bush is obviated by grafting it on the stock of the Dog Rose. The plant will then bloom from July to the cold days of October. The small, round, red fruit early drops the remains of the calyx, and its appearance gains thereby. The black-fruited variety is curious.

Rosa macrophylla of Lindley is one of the most remarkable species of the genus and one of the most variable. The type, as figured in the monograph of the Roses by Lindley, is a tall bush, moderately prickly, with long leaflets of a bluish dark green, with medium-sized pink flowers.

In the collections of M. Alphonse Lavallée, under the name of Rosa Korolkowi, I found a still taller variety, with large, round, straight, almost thornless shoots, and an ample glossy foliage nearly as large as is found in the Tea-scented Roses. The flower is comparatively large, but the shade is of a lighter pink. The fruit is very large, sometimes two inches long. The variety is well worth cultivation.

But the following varieties are still more curious and attractive, in my opinion. The first was reared from seed coming from Se Tchuen. It is a bush with few, strong, diffuse branches, covered all over with enormous spines, very close together, sometimes an inch long, and shaped like a blade, bearing a small point in the middle. The flowers are rather large and pink. (Figs. 135, 136.)


Fig. 135.—Rosa macrophylla, Lindl., var. crasseaculeata

Fig. 136.—Rosa macrophylla, Lindl., var. crasseaculeata

The second variety is from Yunnan. Its shoots are, on the contrary, very slender and gently curved, with acicular spines at the base and scarcely any along the stems. The foliage is elegant, the leaflets being long and narrow. The flowers are rather numerous, drooping, borne on very slender and long peduncles. Their size is not large, as the corolla is little more than half an inch across, but the colour is a dark red; and the calyx, with the long and narrow blades of its divisions, spreads out star-like two inches wide. The panicles of flowers are very nice in a small bouquet. (Figs. 137, 138.)


Fig. 137.—Rosa macrophylla, Lindl., var. acicularis

Fig. 138.—Rosa macrophylla, Lindl., var. acicularis

The last variety is Tibetan. It is an early-flowering plant; the branches are spreading; the foliage abundant, although the leaflets are rather small. The flowers, two inches in diameter, are of a fine red colour or carmine-pink; the filaments of the stamen are red also, and the anthers orange-coloured: the whole bears an unusual appearance. The fruits, very long and numerous, are quite ornamental in the autumn. Were it not for M. Crépin's authority I should have doubted this strange plant being a Macrophylla. (Fig. 139.)


Fig. 139.—Rosa macrophylla, Lindl., var. rubrostaminea

Webb's Rose (R. Webbiana, Wallich) is also a very nice and variable Rose. The plant I received first from the Himalayas bears, according to the description, light-rose flowers borne on a hispid receptacle; but I obtained two other distinct forms from Chinese seeds. One is a very compact bush, the branches bearing a quantity of small, curved, extremely thin ramifications, with rather long, fine, and pointed ivory-white spines, and abundant but very small leaves; with a quantity of small whitish-rosy flowers, crowded together at the extremity of the branches. The fruits, very small also, are smooth.

The other form has flowered this spring for the first time. It is a vigorous bush with abundant foliage, and in that way superior to the type. The flowers are also larger and of a vivid pink colour. As is the case with the preceding variety, the fruits and peduncles are smooth.

There remains for me to speak of a very curious and interesting Rose, the Rosa sericea, known for its strange anomaly of presenting flowers with four divisions instead of five in the calyx and the corolla.

The first seeds I had came to me from the much-regretted botanist the Abbé Delavay, then living in Southern China (Yunnan). The first packet bore the inscription, "Rose with decurrent prickles," the second only "White-flowering Rose."

From that second packet a Rose issued which only produced flowers after ten years. The flower is white when completely opened; after some hours the expanding flower is pale yellow. In this variety the branches are arched, the bark very smooth and orange-brown, and the prickles are straight and rather few.

It is the reverse in the Rose with decurrent (underhanging) prickles. In that variety the base of each leaf is accompanied by two long parallel blades, which bear a very curious appearance, being vastly different from the customary shape of spines. In some branches, however, instead of being one or two inches long, they are nearer to the usual form and mingled with acicular spines. The thorns when young are of a fine red colour, and when the young shoots are lighted up by the sun from behind, the prickles, being somewhat transparent, shine like jewels.

The Sericea flowers very early; in some plants the fruit is formed and red by the beginning of July. The two above-mentioned varieties from Yunnan have red fruits. The seeds received from Se Tchuen gave a majority of plants with yellow fruits. The bushes from that province have generally very long and elegant shoots. The foliage of this Rose is extremely nice, the leaves being composed of numerous little leaflets of a very pleasing and fine green. Few scaly buds are visible in this species, their place being marked by two opposite leaves, a notable addition to the mass of the foliage. (Fig. 140.)


Fig. 140.—Rosa sericea, Lindl.

Unlike the Webbiana, which is a mountain species, and should be protected from too burning exposure and from drought, the Sericea seems to enjoy the full sunshine in a soil retentive enough to preserve some moisture. It is quite hardy also, and will quickly form bushes five to six feet high and very compact. It is one of the most interesting of the Asiatic Roses.

From most of the preceding Roses which cannot be found in nurseries, I could easily save some seeds for amateurs who would like to try their cultivation, hoping they will take as much pleasure as I have done in those fine children of a remote country.