The American Rose Annual, 1947 p.165-166
Fifty-Five Years' Work with Thornless Roses
Niels E. Hansen

Emeritus Professor of Horticulture,
South Dakota State College, Brookings, South Dakota

It is fitting at this time to summarize my fifty-five years' work with Rosa blanda at South Dakota State College, Brookings. This has been a sideline, the main work being in breeding hardy fruits and making eight tours (in about four years) as agricultural explorer in many lands, especially Europe, Russia, Siberia, Transcaucasus, Turkestan and Manchuria.

The fact that much work has been done with Rosa rugosa in countries in Europe and America led me to take up a new line: to originate roses without thorns, not only the thorns on the stem but also the bristles on the rachis or midrib of the leaf. The thornless roses come from two species: Rosa blanda of eastern Canada and from New York west to the Dakotas and Manitoba. The other is Rosa pendulina (alpina) of the Alps of Europe. The main work has been with Rosa blanda as collected in the Dakotas, northwestern Minnesota and southern Manitoba. My first Rosa blanda hybrid was Tetonkaha, introduced in 1912, but it was not thornless. Many more Rosa blanda hybrids have appeared since then. The 100 per cent thornless ones are Pax Amanda, Pax Apollo and Pax Iola, all introduced in 1938. The best double pink so far is Lillian Gibson, introduced in 1938, but not quite thornless.

Zitkala was introduced in 1942 as a "hardy double thornless red rose." The wood is smooth except for some weak bristles and a very few small thorns near the base of the main shoots. It is not quite a Pax rose, as the Pax roses should be completely unarmed. Its flowers are a brilliant velvety red, nearly three inches across with twenty-five petals. The plant of strong upright habit is typically Rosa blanda with red bark. (Zitkala is the Teton Sioux Indian word for "bird" and both a's are pronounced as in "father.") It was produced by pollinating Rosa blanda from Bonanza Springs, western Minnesota, on the east shore of Bigstone Lake, with pollen from Amadis, or Crimson Boursault (a form of Rosa alpina) an old English rose with deep crimson-purple flowers.

Rosa blanda will take many kinds of pollen. The seedlings usually have 16 petals and the lavender-pink of the wild rose is dominant. Zitkala is the first "break" from the lavender-pink of the wild rose, in other words, getting the blue out of the red to obtain what the poet Robert Burns called "the red, red rose."

Thornless rose understocks are also needed. It takes 25 million rose stocks for budding and grafting annually to supply the American market. The propagators suffer danger from the commercial thorny stocks now in use. The experiments at this station point to special selections of our native Rosa blanda as the most promising for this purpose.

The bristles on the rachis must go so that the entire plant will be smooth. This character varies greatly in Rosa blanda as I have observed in thousands of plants in field exploration, in plants grown from collected seed and studying herbarium specimens at many botanical institutions. The need for further field explorations to find the few plants entirely free from bristles on the rachis, as well as spines on the wood, is made clear.

In the coming 50 years rose breeders of the world should combine Rosa blanda and Rosa pendulina in many ways. Both species are thornless and should form the foundation for thornless varieties. The Alps of Europe should be searched for Rosa pendulina (alpina) plants, 100 per cent free from bristles and thorns. If the rose breeders of the world cooperate, all spines and thorns can be removed from the cultivated roses. In these modern days we will not believe the old saying, "No rose without a thorn." Let us streamline the rose into that perfect condition it so richly deserves as the "Queen of Flowers."