American Rose Annual (1974)
The Ross Rambler Rose
Percy H. Wright

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


From Roses-Canada, 2009

The Ross Rambler rose is misnamed, since it is not a true rambler all, but merely an extremely vigorous and tall-growing shrub. It is a species brought in by accident from the Himalayan Mountains of north India, but it is perfectly hardy here on the prairies of Canada, having endured 60 degrees below zero without loss of an inch of wood. Such extreme hardiness is remarkable for a rose that blooms continuously from early spring until the heavy frost of autumn, and that is also rapid in growth. By what secret does it combine these 3 valuable features, so rare in combination among roses? I wish I knew.

One lone plant of the Ross Rambler was found growing in a bed of pine seedlings at the Dominion Forestry Nursery, Indian Head, Saskatchewan, during the time when Mr. Norman Ross was superintendent. The seed had been imported from India, of what species of pine I do not know. One rose seed had apparently become mixed in with the pine seed at the time the latter was collected.

When Mr. Ross noticed the seedling rose, he had it transplanted to a spot beside the superintendent's residence, and there it grew to the prodigious height of 24 feet. Mr. Ross sent me a photograph of the plant showing it up above the second-story windows, so I know for a certainty that the reported height is no fiction.

However, when suckers of the original plant were detached and sent to other places for trial, no one else ever got it to grow higher than 12 feet, which was the height it attained in my nursery near Moose Range. The difference in height has never been explained, and apparently no theories about it have come forward.

The botanical characteristics of the plant are very like those of Rosa laxa alba, which is a native of the adjacent area of Turkestan in central Asia. It has 3 differences from R. laxa alba, however, and one would have a hard time deciding, even if one were a trained taxonomist, which should be regarded as the species and which as the sub-species. R. laxa alba has 9 leaflets per leaf, rather than 7, rarely produces any flowers in the fall, and attains a height of only 8 or 9 feet. Of these differences, the most surprising is the absence of the gene for everblooming, or rather, perhaps, its presence in the Ross Rambler. Both roses have single flowers of medium size and pure white. Both sucker freely, and the Ross Rambler, at least, comes readily from root cuttings.

Are there further sub-species in the same general area of Asia and, if so, do they have equally interesting variations?

As far as I know, only one attempt has ever been made to use the Ross Rambler rose in a breeding project, and this was by Mr. William Godfrey who in the '30s and '40s was active as a rose breeder at the Dominion Experimental Farm, Morden, Manitoba. He crossed it with the climber Dr. W. Van Fleet, a triploid. The latter must have thrown at least one pollen cell normal to a tetraploid, for Mr. Godfrey was able to carry on the line of breeding. The proportion of genes of the Ross Rambler in his subsequent roses, however, was very small.

I myself once grew a considerable number of open-pollinated seedlings of the Ross Rambler. Because I did not have space to plant out so many, I gave them to Mr. Walter Schowalter, then of Rumsey, Alberta. He grew them to flowering, and sent me a description of the various seedlings. It was easy to conclude from his descriptions that the genes of all the rose varieties growing in the vicinity of the Ross Rambler plant at the time had had their influence on the hybrids. We are safe, therefore, in concluding that the Ross Rambler is willing to accept the pollen of many roses that are not at all closely related to it.

I consider it strange that no further attempts to use the Ross Rambler have been made since that time, for obviously this exotic species or sub-species is of great promise as a parent of new hardy or semi-hardy roses. It has been completely free of blackspot, mildew, and rose rust for me ever since I received my first sucker plant about 1935. I, too, am one of those who inexplicably overlooked the rare opportunity its genes almost certainly provided.

Its most important contribution to the roses of the future will probably be stature, for a 12-ft. rose plant, even though it shows none of the features of a climber or rambler, but is rather a dwarf tree, should be valuable for the origination of hardy ever-blooming pillar roses. I assume that any rose variety which produces a large proportion of its flowers at such a height that you have to crane your neck and look upward to see them would be accepted as a "climber" in the broad sense.

I know of no other very promising possibility if one were to aim to originate a pillar rose hardy enough for the prairie provinces of Canada. Here in Saskatchewan all true climbers and ramblers are growthy, so that when fall comes their wood is full of sap and there is almost no chance of hardiness except at the base of the plant, if there. They commonly winterkill, even when with a great deal of trouble they are laid recumbent along the ground and covered with soil and snow. Because most of them do not bloom as they grow, but try to make a tall growth before blooming, the consequence of the attempt to enjoy them here is the production of lots of wood year after year, but rarely a flower.

I lost my first plant of the Ross Rambler by the disease commonly known as Witches' Broom. However, I was able to get a second start in it from Mr. Walter Schowalter and, after I dug out the original plant, one of the several plants that re-grew from the cut roots turned out to be clean. I intend to cross the Ross Rambler even yet, with some of my hardy shrub roses; but the really promising cross, surely, would be with the Peace rose, or some other high quality Hybrid Tea.