Breeders of Note:
The Tantaus

Ed Cunningham

  In 1906, Mathias Tantau sr. (1882 - 1953) began the "Rosen-Tantau" nursery in Uetersen, in northern Germany. His son, Mathias, jr. was born in 1912. Between their individual & collaborative works, they bred a large multitude of roses between 1918 and 1985, when the younger Tantau sold the nursery to a colleague.

Helpmefind.com notes that Jack Harkness wrote of the elder Tantau that "His first interest was in trees... Mathias began to sow the seed of Polyantha roses, which caught his interest, because whereas the seeds of his trees grew true to their species, those of the roses were all different. By 1918, Mathias Tantau declared himself a specialist in rose growing and breeding. He introduced the first two varieties of his own origination in 1919... neither was particularly successful." Further, "In 1937, [Mathias, the elder ] became interested in breeding with a wild rose from China... a rose with small, dainty leaves and clouds of little pink flowers, called R. Multibracteata . He knew, for all rose breeders know it, that for such a project one should allow at least twenty years; in fact it was twenty-three years before his son reaped the reward of that initiative." " ...'Garnette' was a marvelous discovery for Mathias Tantau, a red rose with hard petals; it came out in Germany in 1947, and in 1951 was introduced by the Jackson & Perkins Co. in America. A most successful cut flower on account of its durability... Quite a cult arose around 'Garnette'... the growers of cut roses planted glasshouses full of it, and began to discover mutations, ..."

Helpmefind.com also noted that Peter Beales statement that "[Mathias Tantau's] early work was largely with Polyanthas and Hybrid Polyanthas... It was not until his son, also Mathias, got to work that quality Hybrid Teas started to emerge from the Tantau nurseries. The first of these was 'Prima Ballerina' in 1957..."

In all things in life, there are the flamboyant giants, and the "quiet" giants. Some people do things well, and receive a lot of attention; while others do things well, but without much notice. For example, in World War II, there were flamboyant giants: Patton, Rommel, and Halsey; then there were the quiet giants, such as Bradley and Nimitz. The same is true in rose breeding as well. The Tantau's fall into the "quiet" category. While they did not have the massive production of the generations of the Dicksons, McGredy's, Meillands, or Kordes's, their achievements should have lodged them in the same sphere of the rose heavens. After all, they did give us Floradora (parent of Queen Elizabeth), City of York ( a beautiful fragrant climber in the Brooklyn Garden), Showbiz, Fragrant Cloud, Joyfullness/Tansinnroh, Blue Girl, Blue Moon, Whisky Mac, Oregold (an ARS winner), Eroika, Polarstern, Lichterloh, and Zitronenfalter to name some of their better known productions. Ah well, they weren't in it for the publicity anyway.

A review of their work shows that they followed professional practices in their breeding program. Amateurs, with limited time and resources, approach breeding very straight-forwardly: they simply breed "strength to strength." For example, an amateur might cross 'Gemini' with 'Marilyn Monroe', hoping to breed the winner 'Curvaceous Twin.' There is nothing wrong with this approach; indeed, many famous roses have thus come into being. But, such breeding is a hobbyist's approach, and owes more to "luck of the draw." Such a simplistic approach is more likely to create 'Siamese Twin,' instead of 'Curvaceous Twin,' as a result. It's fun, but keep your day job, just in case.

The earlier reference to 20 years for a breeding program is not unusual for professional breeders. They isolate and standardize characteristics in roses by selective breeding, and then intermix new genes to create new roses. The Tantau's bred, and then worked with, a number of roses from the cross of Baby Chateau ( itself a cross of a hybrid musk and an H.T.) with R.Roxburghii. Floradora, Cinnabar, Tantau's Triomphe, Alpine Glow, and Kathe Duvigneau were 5 of their offspring from this cross. Helpmefind.com lists the offspring by generation of important roses. These 5 roses fill between 1 and 6 screens with their first generation offspring alone !!! Their 5 creations alone contributed much to many other breeders efforts; a lot of other breeders thought they were doing good work. It is a commonplace among rose breeders that you achieve your accomplishments by standing on the shoulders of those who came before you.

In researching this article, I was bemused to learn that even a professional breeder can have unexpected results. At www.geocities.com/kingke.geo/Roses/WULFF.HTM there is a 1959 American Rose Annual article entitled 'Cytology of Two Fertile Triploid Roses.' Pertinent AND comprehensible excerpts are: "Like other triploid plants, roses which possess three sets of 7 chromosomes each are generally sterile." .... In 1929 & 1933, "Erlanson gave further details of the cytology of triploid roses, drawing special attention to the fact that some of them are able to set seed. The triploid hybrid Rosa blanda x R. carolina, for instance, proved to produce 'a crop of good hips and achenes.'" "Dr. Erlanson asked (and so may we) whether the progeny of such a fertile triploid would also be triploid, or diploid or tetraploid."

"In recent years, two other triploid roses of hybrid origin and of rather high fertility were found among the creations of the late nurseryman, Mathias Tantau, Sr. (seedling number 83 and Schneeschirm). Dr H W Rehagen and I investigated their cytology at the Botanical Institute of the University of Kiel (Germany), and made the first successful attempt to raise seedlings in order to study their cytology as well. His seedling number 83 [Rosa multifora x (R. canina x R. coriifolia froebelli)] produced a new fertile rose and 27 diploid sister plants. Morphologically, this triploid plant was highly similar to the female parent. The ancestry of Schneeschirm, an ornamental rose, is not quite clear. The offspring of about 60 plants were tetraploid, each seedling having 28 chromosomes in the root tips." So, in his breeding program, he incidentally created 2 of the very few triploid roses in existence !!! Hmmm.

The point here is that there is a lot going on that is not apparent when you try to breed roses. Some crosses just won't work. Some doors will be "inexplicably" closed to you. But other doors you wouldn't dream of, lie there, just waiting to be discovered.

Oh, yes, the immediate breeding of Tropicana: (Crimson Glory x R.Multibracteata pollen) x (Baby Chateau x R.Roxburghii)(Baby Chateau x R.Roxburghii). Yep, it was 23 years from 1937, when he first started working with R. Multibracteata until it bore fruit in Tropicana, in 1960.

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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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