Breeder’s of Note
George Folliet Harison

Ed Cunningham

            There are many rose breeders who have worked diligently to bring the best new cultivars to market.   In many cases, they have devoted lifetimes to mastering their craft; the best of them reap rewards of recognition, appreciation, and even profit !  Regardless of stature, it has been pointed out that the rose breeders of every generation "stand on the shoulders of those who came before." 

            Sometimes, those shoulders are narrow, but tall.

            George Folliot Harison is readily recognized by few today, but, he has been widely blessed by generations of innumerable "pioneer women."  In the Manhattan of 1830, he introduced the only rose that is attributed to him: "Harison's Yellow."  Believed to be a cross between Scotch Briar and Rosa Foetida, it grows vigorously, even in poor or semi-shaded soil; becoming a big mound within 2 years, and spreading readily via suckering runners.  Although a once bloomer, it is bright, pretty, cheery, and fragrant.   It was an anchor, a  tie to the nicities of civilization that the pioneers had left behind when they entered the enormous, unrelieved flatness of the open plains,  and had to live in houses made of sod.    "You see it all over America, lingering in pioneer gardens long after the pioneers, and even their houses, have vanished" (Macoboy: The Ultimate Rose Book).   Today, it is perhaps most famous as the "Yellow Rose of Texas."

            Then again, the little remembered firm of  "Lee," in Hammersmith, England had 5 roses attributed to it.  Of those five,  2 are still well regarded.  Firstly,  the Stanwell Perpetual rose (from 1838; believed to be a chance cross of Autumn Damask and Scotch Briar), and secondly, the ubiquitous Rosa Rugosa ( back in 1796) !!!.    Stanwell Perpetual is still a "classic," even to this day.   And, as every rosarian school child knows, Rosa Rugosa is one of the most important (or predominant) influences in breeding programs seeking  "cold-hardy" roses.

            But, when it comes to obscure breeders who have made watershed contributions  to the state of the modern rose, you have to look at 7 roses by "unknown Chinese or Japanese breeders."   Theirs are "broad shoulders" indeed.

            The roses are:                         

                                    Park's Yellow Tea-scented China   "Tea Parentage: Bred in China (before 1824) by

                                                Unknown Chinese Breeder(s).

                                                Discovered in England (1824) by John Damper Parks.

                                                Medium yellow blooms. Tea fragrance. Repeats its bloom again later in the season."

                                                9489 Descendants in 19 generations


                                    Rosa Wichuraiana   "Class:Groundcover, Species.

                                                Bred in China (1860) by Unknown Chinese Breeder(s).

                                                Bred in Japan (1860) by Unknown Japanese Breeder(s).

                                                White, near white & white blend blooms. Clover, Strong fragrance.

                                                Average diameter 1 ". Single, small bloom form.

                                                Once-blooming spring or summer depending upon location."

                                                2873 Descendants in 10 generations


                                    Slater's Crimson China, "Class:Bermuda Rose, China and Cl. China/Bengale,  

                                                Bred in China (before 1792) by Unknown Chinese Breeder(s).

                                                Discovered in England (1792) by Gilbert Slater.

                                                Medium red blooms. Repeats its bloom again later in the season."

                                                285 Descendants  in 8 generations


                                    Old Blush  "Class:China and Cl. China/Bengale   

                                                Bred in China (before 1793) by Unknown Chinese Breeder(s).

                                                Discovered in England (1793) by Parsons.

                                                Medium pink blooms. Mild fragrance. Semi-double bloom form. Repeats its bloom.

                                                201 Descendants in 9 generations



There are 3 more China roses, of lesser significance: Odorata (Hume, 1810), a light pink double with strong fragrance;  Bengale Cerise, and Bengale Rouge, two medium reds.


            These China roses were valued for themselves.   Wichuraiana became known as the Memorial Rose because it was planted as a decorative remembrance on so many graves as a groundcover.


            As time went on, they also became valued for their breeding characteristics.   They provided an infusion of genetics for remontancy and for new shades of color (especially Parks Tea, a yellow without a "yen" for blackspot) which transformed the world of roses.  They contributed varying characteristics of some disease resistance.  Wichuraiana also contributed cold-hardiness and suppleness of canes.   The China and Tea roses contributed cold-tenderness/heat tolerance.


            From the beginning, these China roses contributed important offspring to the breeding of roses:  Duchess of Portland, Damask, before 1770;  Rose du Roi, Damask Perpetual,  1812;   the original  Bourbon Rose, 1819;  Souvenir de la Malmaison, Bourbon, 1843;   the 3 Blairii roses,  Bourbons, 1844-1845;  The Green Rose / R. chinensis viridifloria, 1845;  Comte de Chambord  Damask Perpetual, 1860; and  Perle d'Or,  Polyantha, 1884.


            Even in modern times, they have been used to good effect.  For example, Wichuraiana was employed in the breeding of Dr. W. Van Fleet, the sport parent of New Dawn.  It was a parent of R. Kordesii, and of Dorothy Perkins.  It was, in fact, used by many prominent breeders, including our own Dr. Brownell.


            An examination of the ancestry of many of the roses bred by Austin, Buck, Harkness, Kordes, and Meilland reveals a significant representation of their heritage.  As one example, if you ever notice a red hybrid tea that has a thin, vertical white stripe on a few of the outer petals, you are almost surely looking at a descendant of Slater's Crimson China.


            What is it about a rose that draws forth so much attention and interest from us ?  How is it that people of different times and cultures share such a devotion to the rose ?


            The Good Book says that God is Love.  The Navajo say that God is Beauty.   St. Augustine wrote that "our hearts will not rest until they rest in Thee."   Perhaps we, and the "unknown Chinese breeders," begin to apprehend God in the peaceful contemplation of a rose.

RI Rose Review January 2003



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