American Rose Annual 54: 128-130 (1969)
Dr. Edgar Anderson
St. Louis, Missouri

ROSA foetida is important to us for several reasons: the increased vigor it brings, its special adaptation to the different climates of the eastern United States, and an increasing effect on the color, color patterns and scent of the world's roses.

As to its odor, foetid or fetid (it is spelled both ways) means a heavy animal scent. This is also the meaning of musky, yet undertones of musk have been used by perfumers since ancient times. One of the delights of 'Harison's Yellow,' which is half foetida, is the touch of a musky odor to its fragrance. I suspect that the slowly increasing revival of scent in our roses is partly from the increasing role of Rosa foetida in their ancestry.

Ernest H. Wilson wrote4 that there are only six rose species with yellow flowers, Rosa persica, R. hemespherica, R. ecae, R. foetida, R. hugonis, R. xanthina. All of these came out of Asia. Their association with man has been long and complicated. Which ones were wild when they were first collected by European botanists, is now hard to determine. We know that some of them, like foetida, run wild in many places. Their history is probably like that of our cultivated apples and crab-apples. This has been touched on briefly in a book written for the general public, now available in a revised amplified edition.2 It is their Asiatic ancestry that makes these species important in producing roses for such difficult middle-western climates as that of St. Louis. It requires plants which are both cold-resistant and drought-resistant, able to withstand early autumnal freezes and late springtime freezes. It is a difficult climate for plants from England and western Europe. Those which succeed best, come from Mongolia, Manchuria, and the eastern Balkans including southern Austria. In discussing this climate with plant-breeders and gardeners I needed a simple name to point out the common features of all these areas and I dubbed it the SOYBEAN CLIMATE because in all of them, soybeans grow well and are an important crop. Note in this connection the adaptability of 'Harison's Yellow' throughout the eastern United States. It traveled westward with the pioneer families, frequently the only ornamental plant to survive. In Colorado it is called the 'Colorado Rose,' in Texas the 'Texas Rose.' Hybrid vigor, on top of its climatic tolerances, made possible its unique adaptability in the opening West. Shepherd3 p. 175, says our common name, 'AUSTRIAN COPPER,' is misleading for Rosa foetida since the latter is of Asian origin and was known to the poets and artists of Western Asia long before the time of Mohammed. 'Austrian Yellow' was in Austria (where it runs wild) before 1600 and 'Austrian Copper' was there before 1590. In 1900 Pernet-Ducher created 'Soleil d'Or', the first successful hybrid between Rosa foetida and the Hybrid Perpetual roses thereby "adding to the red, pink, yellow, and white" of our roses, "yellow, apricot, flaming scarlet and copper," but bringing along poorly formed blossoms and susceptibility to blackspot3 Shepherd p. 214. Then Walter Lammerts made another stride forward with a well-conceived breeding program. He decided our roses were getting too inbred, that they needed more vigor. He achieved this by crossing two good roses which came from different breeding lines, 'Sister Therese,' a Pernetiana derivative, and 'Crimson Glory,' a good red rose that came from a line that had been closely bred for cut-flower production. From this cross came 'Charlotte Armstrong.' It produced many popular seedlings with wide adaptability. The flowers were large and attractive but tended to have the foetida faults listed above. These linkages were loosened by Meilland in 1945, with the rose that is known as 'Gloria Dei,' 'Mme. Meille,' and 'Peace' in different parts of the world. It came out of a complex series of related crosses and on one line it was a grandchild of 'Austrian Copper.'

My own interest in Rosa foetida comes from my long concern1 with some of the basic problems of plant breeding; the nature of hybrid vigor, the hindrances to combining characteristics of two species after they have been crossed, the interpretation of sporting (mutation) in such long-cultivated ornamentals as chrysanthemums and roses. The parallelism between mutation in corn and in roses is so close that it should be carefully investigated. Shepherd says p. 176, that 'Austrian Copper' is undoubtedly a sport of Rosa foetida. It differs from it chiefly in its blossom color, coppery red on the upper side, orange yellow on the back. Its flowers show variation in color, sometimes even to being pure yellow on both sides of the petals. There is a sport of 'Austrian Copper,' 'Jaune Bicolor,' that has yellow blossoms streaked with red. All this sounds very much like the variegated red-and-white ears of corn which have been grown in Latin America since pre-Colombian times and were long believed to possess magic properties. The stripes of red and white may be as broad as to cover half an ear of corn or they may have fine stripes or ones of intermediate size. There may even be sectors of fine and broad striping on different parts of the same ear of corn. Some of the most basic research on germplasm of corn in the last two decades has been concerned with these phenomena. Though much has been learned, authorities still disagree. A precise comparison of sporting (mutation) in corn and in roses might lead to more effective interpretations of mutation in both corn and roses. Even though the process is fundamentally the same in both of them, various kinds of evidence would certainly be easier to analyze in one, than in the other. The history of the rose has been so well documented in Europe and America that such a comparative study would be more practicable to undertake with roses than with most other ornamental plants.


  1. Anderson, Edgar. The Hindrance to Gene Recombination Imposed by Linkage; an estimate of its total magnitude. American Naturalist, 73, pp 185-188. 1939.
  2. Anderson, Edgar. Plants, Man and Life. Revision (paperback) University of California Press. Berkeley, pp. 251. 1967.
  3. Shepherd, Roy E. The History of the Rose, pp. 264, Macmillan. 1954.
  4. Wilson, Ernest H. Aristocrats of the Garden. Vol. 1, pp. 312. The Stratford Company. 1932.