American Rose Annual 56:60-63 (1971)
The Yellow Rose of Texas
Percy H. Wright
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
The little verses in a recent issue of the "American Rose" magazine on the identity of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as simply the old-time hardy 'Harison's Yellow' struck a responsive chord when I read it. Although Saskatchewan is a long way from Texas, it happens that I had heard before of "The Yellow Rose of Texas".
The late Dr. F.L. Skinner of Dropmore, Manitoba, whom no private horticulturist on this continent has a more renowned name, once sent me pollen of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" for use in rose breeding. He described the flower as identical to that of 'Persian Yellow', but the plant as different, more vigorous, growing up to nine feet instead of five feet or so that we are all accustomed to seeing 'Persian Yellow' reach.
It turned out that the rose he had under the name which has given me the title of my essay, was indeed 'Persian Yellow', and that the increased height and vigor are due to its being on its own roots. How many people, rosarians included, are aware that 'Persian Yellow' will indeed grow to nine or ten feet when on its own roots? And yet, the species to which it belongs, Rosa foetida, is described as attaining ten feet in the "Rosa" section of that encyclopedia of roses, Modern Roses 7.
'Persian Yellow', in the section on varieties of roses, is given the name foetida persiana, which would lead one to conclude that 'Persian Yellow' itself would attain the same height—unless by some rare chance it might be a dwarf selection of the typical species. It isn't; I can myself attest to that, for I have seen 'Persian Yellow' plants all of nine feet high, right here in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where, on account of our northerly location, one would expect somewhat less height than in the more lush country farther south. Many rose cultivars have their vigor increased by being budded on multiflora or some other understock, but 'Persian Yellow' is the exception. Its natural vigor is very considerably reduced by having multiflora as its rootstock.
In writing the foregoing, I am not disputing the identification of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as 'Harison's Yellow'. Obviously someone, not necessarily the person from whom Dr. Skinner procured his 10-foot yellow rose, but someone in a probably long chain of growers, once made the mistake in identity.
'Harison's Yellow' and 'Persian Yellow' have a very different history. 'Harison's Yellow' was own-rooted decades before it was budded on any understock, and in the own-root form it travelled with the New England pioneers as they penetrated westward in the United States. 'Persian Yellow' was brought from Persia (today's Iran) in 1837 by Sir Henry Willock (according to Modem Roses 7 again), and was presumably propagated by budding at once upon its arrival. How, then, did it get back on its own roots and therefore arrive in Dr. Skinner's rose garden in readiness to resume its normal height?
One can only assume that someone in the prairie provinces or the states just across the border, where deep planting of the rose plants in commerce, and therefore probably on the tender multiflora root, planted his 'Persian Yellow' rosebushes deep enough that they made roots above the union, and so began to sucker. Everyone is accustomed to seeing 'Harison's Yellow' suckering all over the place, but the truth is that 'Persian Yellow' is equally profuse as a suckerer.
Several interesting questions arose out of the revelation of the vigor of 'Persian Yellow' when on its own roots. One of these is: Is not 'Austrian Copper', Rosa foetida bicolor, also a ten-footer when own rooted? I'd expect that it is, but can anyone who reads this item say definitely that it is? A ten-foot 'Austrian Copper' bush would surely make quite a display, and it would appear to be worthwhile to get it own rooted on purpose to see such a large bush clothed in those remarkable flowers which so abound on 'Austrian Copper'.
'Austrian Yellow' is often the result of the sporting of 'Austrian Copper' for loss of the copper tone on its face (which seems to be the most frequent of all sports in rosedom), and we can assume, I think, that such plants are very close to the typical wild Rosa foetida of Persia. But there will be one striking difference. Rosa foetida as it grows in its native habitat must be fertile, a seed bearer, whereas 'Austrian Copper' and the 'Austrian Yellow' which results from it sporting, as well as 'Persian Yellow' itself, have never produced seed—as far as I am aware.
My second question, therefore, is: Where can I procure a start in the typical Rosa foetida, the form which bears seed? I should like to have a few plants in order to try out their potentiality as a parent of new rose cultivars. Here on the Canadian prairies, where we can never hope to grow true Climbers, a ten-foot rose of shrub form might serve as a substitute, and would surely be a beauty in its own right.
Still another question is: Does Rosa foetida as it grows wild in its native home, vary in color from pale, pale yellow to the rich yellow of 'Persian Yellow', or is it uniformly yellow? Our wild roses of North America vary from nearly white to rosy pink approaching red, and one would expect that a species which has yellow as its basic tone rather than red would similarly vary, but does it do so?
Here in Saskatoon, 'Persian Yellow' on it own roots is not so hardy as 'Persian Yellow' on canina roots, and the reason is clearly that its extra vigor means that the plants make so much growth in the season that they do not attain the same maturity by the date of the first heavy fall frosts. They are also more subject to blackspot, doubtless for the same reason, since an especially succulent foliage would naturally be more subject to disease. In years when 'Persian Yellow' plants are defoliated by blackspot, whether or not they are own-rooted, they are more likely to kill back than in years when blackspot is absent or rare.
It can be inferred that here in Saskatoon we are on the border line between country where blackspot is rare or absent on account of the dryness of the atomosphere, and country where blackspot is always troublesome. Eighty miles north of Saskatoon, at Parkside, Sask., the air is slightly more humid, and 'Persian Yellow' and 'Austrian Copper' rose plants soon die out from persistent blackspot. All the hybrids I have raised from 'Persian Yellow' pollen are free of blackspot; completely free. If I were to backcross to 'Persian Yellow' or 'Austrian Copper', susceptibility to blackspot would doubtlessly return, and probably also among sib crosses.