The Scotch Rose And Its Garden Descendants*
Gordon Rowley**
Reading, Berkshire, England

*Reprinted from Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, Vol. LXXXVI Past 10, October 1961
**Department of Agricultural Botany

"Amongst the kindes of wilde Roses, there is founde a sorte whose shutes, twigges and branches are covered all over with thicke small thornie prickles. The flowers be small single and white, and of a very good savour. The whole plant is base and low, and the least of al both of the garden and wilde kind of Roses."

THUS we read of Rosa spinosissima in HENRY LYTE'S translation of DODONAEAU'S Herbal of 1578. The description leaves us in no doubt of the identity of the rose, although no mention is made of the distinct black fruits—another "spot" character. GERARD'S Herbal2 makes good this omission, adds some detail to the description, and uses the popular names 'Pimpernell Rose' and 'Burnet Rose' on account of the similarity of the leaf to that of Burnet (Pimpinella). GERARD cultivated the rose in his garden, and records having found it between Grays and Horndon-on-the-Hill in Essex, and "in a pasture as you go from a village hard by London called Knightsbridge unto Fulham, a village thereby..."

Botanically we recognize the species as a widespread tetraploid rose from Europe and Western Asia, whose nearest ally is the bright yellow Austrian briar, Rosa foetida Herrm. The Latin name has been less stable than the common names (as so often), and both LINNAEUS'S epithets spinosissima and pimpinellifolia have been taken up by various authorities. At present, champions of Rosa spinosissima L. are in the lead, following J. G. BAKER'S vindication in WILLMOTT'S The Genus Rosa.8 In British Isles it is a familiar sight on windswept moors and rugged cliffs, especially near the sea, with its dwarf very bristly stems, dainty, usually purplish foliage and creamy white flowers in spring followed by the large, squat, blackish purple fruits in autumn. Under dry, exposed conditions it rarely exceeds nine inches or a foot high, but when shaded or transplanted to a garden it loses its bronze sunburn and forms thickets 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet high, though still smaller than many of its garden descendants.

Wild populations of Rosa spinosissima vary extensively in habit, armature, leaf serration, indumentum and flower colour. Thus, from the head of Loch Coruisk, Skye, DR. M. B. E. GODWARD of London University was kind enough to send me cuttings taken from an isolated population in which the flower colour varied from yellow to deep pink. Seedlings from wild plants show still greater variation, including degrees of flower doubling, and its possibilities as a garden plant were early recognized. The origin of the Scotch Roses in the collection of ROBERT BROWN, a Scottish nurseryman, is reported in the admirable "Description and Account of the Varieties of Double Scotch Roses Cultivated in the Gardens of England" by J. SABINE,7 and I quote his account as one of the few detailed contemporary records of the source of our groups of garden roses (p. 285).

"In the year 1793, he [ROBERT BROWN] and his brother transplanted some of the wild Scotch Roses from the Hill of Kinnoul, in the neighbourhood of Perth, into their nursery garden. One of these bore flowers slightly tinged with red, from which a plant was raised whose flowers exhibited a monstrosity, appearing as if one or two flowers came from one bud, which was a little tinged with red. These produced seed whence some semi-double flowering plants were obtained; and by continuing a selection of seed, and thus raising new plants, they in 1802 and 1803 had eight good double varieties to dispose of. Of these they subsequently increased the number, and from the stock in the Perth garden the nurseries both of Scotland and England were first supplied.

"As nearly as I have been able to ascertain, the eight sorts were the small white, the small yellow, the lady's blush, another lady's blush with smooth footstalks, the red, the light red, the dark marbled and the large two-coloured."

Other nurserymen who took up the raising of Scotch Roses were AUSTIN of Glasgow, MALCOLM of Kensington and LEE of Hammersmith. A few were raised on the Continent and in America, but the name Scotch Roses reflects their country of origin, and is also used as a common name for the wild spinosissima.

SABINE'S review mentioned above describes in detail 26 varieties, doubles only, and gives simple descriptive names mainly based on flower colour. Such was the vogue for Scotch Roses that soon every seedling was given a new name, irrespective of merit or distinction, and by 1832 G. DON1 could list by name 25 doubles and 149 singles, as well as 14 botanical varieties of Rosa spinosissima. But by this time the recurrent-blooming China roses and their descendants were sweeping all before them, and the fate of any rose that blossomed in spring only was already sealed. Only the remontant 'Stanwell Perpetual' stayed in favour, and that is no Scotch Rose but a hybrid with R. damascena semperflorens. The fact that several of the early varieties have survived to this day must be due largely to their longevity and persistent suckering, which favours ready propagation and passing from garden to garden (Figs. 129, 131-3). Today these survivors are eagerly sought now that the old shrub roses are back in favour: they grow so readily in a range of soils, require little attention and no pruning, and make admirable low hedges. For a good essay on their garden uses see G. JEKYLL and E. MAWLEY: Roses for English Gardens.4

Up to now all the roses considered come within the circumscription of Rosa spinosissima and may be considered varieties or mutations of one, variable species. A large number of hybrids exist, both spontaneous and of garden origin. Rosa spinosissima is a regular tetraploid and, so far as observations at Bayfordbury go, self-incompatible. Its varieties, except when fully double, mostly produce abundant pollen with high viability—90 per cent good grains or more. These varieties cross freely among themselves and with the allied tetraploid species R. foetida, but crosses with unrelated rose species outside the Section Pimpinellifoliae succeed only when spinosissima is pollen parent. HESLOP HARRISON was the first to get up early enough to discover that self-pollination took place in newly opened buds at 4 a.m. before the arrival of insect visitors.3 He studied insect visitors in the field and recorded eight different kinds in all. WOLLEY-DOD recognized spontaneous hybrids in Britain between Rosa spinosissma and seven members of the Section Caninae: R. afzeliana, canina, coriifolia, sherardii, stylosa, tomentosa and villosa. Those that have been examined cytologically confirm that spinosissima was the male parent in the cross.


A Flowers quite single, 5-petalled  
B Flowers white or cream  
C Flowers small, 4-5 cm. diam.  
D Plants dwarf, 30-45 (-60) cm. high Wild Scotch or Burnet rose
E Peduncles hispid  
F Leaves simply serrate spinosissima
FF Leaves glandular biserrate; prickles very numerous, unequal myriacantha
EE Peduncles naked pimpinellifolia
DD Plants taller, 100-120 cm. (Unnamed intermediate at Bayfordbury,
linking the dwarf Scotch Rose with the larger garden cvs.)
CC Flowers medium to large, 5-7 cm. diam.  
G Peduncles hispid; fruit red 'Elasmacantha' (hort. non auct.)
GG Peduncles naked; fruit purplish black  
H Medium shrubs, 90-120 cm. high (Syn. 'Baltica') altaica
HH Low sprawling shrub to 90 cm. 'Dunwichensis'
CCC Flowers very large, 8 1/2-9 cm. diam. hispida (Fig. 132)
BB Flowers yellow (Some hybrids with R. foetida here)  
I Flowers medium, 5 1/2-6 cm. diam.
(Syn. R. ochroleuca hort. non Swartz; R. s. luteola)
'Ormiston Roy'
II Flowers larger, 6-6 1/2 cm. diam. (Syn. R. s. lutea; R. vorbergii) x harisonii; vorbergii
III Flowers large, 6 1/2-7 cm. diam. (Syn. R. s. lutea maxima hort.) 'Maxima Lutea'
BBB Flowers pink or purple  
J Plants bristly  
K Flowers rose rosea
KK Flowers pale purple  
L Flowers small, 4-4 1/2 cm. diam. fulgens
LL Flowers larger, 4 1/2-5 1/2 cm. diam. 'Miss Anne's Rose'
KKK Flowers striped rose ciphiana
KKKK Flowers crimson-purple with a white eye (Fig. 129) 'Mrs. Colville'
JJ Plants almost unarmed inermis
AA Flowers semi-double or double  
M Flowers white or cream  
N Flowers semi-double nana
NN Flowers fully double albo-plena
MM Flowers yellow  
O Flowers medium-sized, up to 5 1/2 cm. diam.  
 P Flowers pale sulphur, cupped; bush 100-120 cm. high 'Old Yellow Scotch'
 PP Flowers lemon yellow, not cupped; dwarf shrublet 30-60 cm. high 'Lutea Plena' (Fig. 133)
OO Flowers rather large, 5 1/2-7 1/2 cm. diam., rich yellow; shrub 120-180 cm. high
(Syn. 'Harison's Yellow')
x harisonii; harisonii
MMM Flowers flushed pink or purple  
Q Flowers uniform pale pink, cupped andrewsii
QQ Flowers blush fading to cream splashed with pink (Syn. 'Grahamstown') 'Staffa' (Fig. 131)
QQQ Flowers deep purple 'King William III'
QQQQ Flowers deep purple above, silvery white below 'Painted Lady'

The National Rose Species Collection at Bayfordbury6 contains a good representation of Scotch Roses and varieties of Rosa spinosissima, and it is on these living plants that the following key is based. It excludes the modern Hybrid Spinosissimas, which in any case are unlikely to be confounded with the early types, and any hybrids of spinosissima other than those with its close ally, R. foetida, for which the general epithet R. x harisonii applies.

New fame has come to the lowly spinosissima in the twentieth century with its incorporation in two major breeding programmes. In the search for hardy roses for northern Canada, the enterprising breeders F. L. SKINNER and P. H. WRIGHT have included it in many of their lines. In the quest for new shrub and park roses in Germany, WILHELM KORDES has had surprising success using two garden varieties of spinosissima, the 'Fruhlings-' series being outstanding both for the size and vigor of some of the roses ('Fruhlingsanfang,' 'Fruhlingsgold') and for the floral perfection of 'Fruhlingsmorgen,' considered by many the most beautiful of all single roses. Table I gives a summary of these new breeding lines and includes also 'Golden Wings' from R. E. SHEPHERD in America, but omits a number of isolated hybrids with species like Rosa rugosa and R. acicularis raised in Canada.

A display collection of Rosa spinosissima in its many varieties and forms can be impressive in extent and variety, and both ornamental and botanically revealing. It is indeed surprising to stand before an immense shrub of 'Fruhlingsgold,' with its spreading, woody branches and spectacular display of yellow, scented blooms and realize that it is but a few generations removed from the tiny wild Scotch Rose. When MR. BROWN picked his first Scotch Rose from the Hill of Kinnoul, he could scarcely have foreseen the wealth and diversity of new roses that this species was to bring to gardens.

Fig. 129 — Rosa spinosissima 'Mrs. Coville' Fig. 131— Rosa spinosissima 'Staffa' Fig. 132 — Rosa spinosissima hispida
A collection of Scotch rose blooms showing different color variations Fig. 133— Rosa spinosissima 'Lutea Plena'


  1. DON, G. (1832). A General History of the Dichlamydeous Plants, Vol. II, pp. 568 et seq.
  2. GERARD, J. (1597). The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants, p. 1088.
  3. HARRISON, J. W. H. (1921). [The Genus Rosa, its Hybridology and other Genetical Problems] in Trans. Nat. Hist. Soc. Northumberland & Durham, II, pp. 244-98.
  4. JEKYLL, G., and MAWLEY, E. (1902). Roses for English Gardens, pp. 20 et seq.
  5. LYTE, H. (1578). A Niewe Herball or Historie of Plants, p. 656.
  6. ROWLEY, G. D. (1954). [Roses at Bayfordbury] in J. Roy. Hort. Soc. LXXIX, pp. 382-9; in Rose Annual, 1956, pp. 11-17.
  7. SABINE, J. (1822). [Description and Account of the Varieties of Double Scotch Roses, cultivated in the Gardens of England] in Trans. Hort. Soc. IV, pp. 281-305.
  8. WILLMOTT, E. (1911). The Genus Rosa, Vol. II, p. 248.
Paul: Scotch Roses (1848)

Trans. Nat. Hist. Soc. Northumberland and Durham 5(2): 244-98. (1921)
The Genus Rosa, its Hybridology and other Genetical Problems
J. W. Heslop Harrison D.Sc

Investigating as I was the possible effect of cross-pollination in the roses, I was compelled to study the matter in the field, when some very interesting and illuminating evidence was secured. Very early indeed I discovered that, to say the least, pollination in Rosa was conducted under peculiar circumstances. Every morning at 7 a.m. practically every young flower, no matter what its species, provided that its stigmas were mature enough to receive pollen, was already pollinated, and this maturity, since the roses are homogamous, was almost always shown at that hour. Thus it appeared almost certain that, if pollination was effected by insects, it could only be through the action of Noctuidae flying at dusk and dawn, or through Diptera and Hymenoptera busying themselves at daybreak. To determine which was responsible I paid special attention an hour or so after sunset to the blossoms of the day, and to those just ready to burst. At that time, as if by magic, every flower young and old was folded up for the night. Unless then brought about by casual day-fliers like the Noctuids of the genus Miana the agency of moths must be ruled out. There remained then the operations of Diptera and Hymenoptera to be considered. I therefore got up earlier, at 4 a.m. (GMT), before any insects were at work, when I found that even then every newly expanded R. pimpinellifolia had its stigmas powdered with pollen from its own overarching stamens.