With so many rose varieties, you could be forgiven for not being able to tell them apart! So, here’s the ultimate guide to the spectacular, colorful world of fragrant roses.
This ultimate guide to roses includes their names, types, and varieties. The American Rose Society classified them as either Old Garden (heritage or antique roses) that mostly bloom once per season, wild (species) roses that have not been hybridized, and modern roses cultivated post-1867.
Few things in life are as iconic as a red bunch of roses or an elegant rose garden. So, if you really want to know a bit more about these fabulous flowers, their meanings, and how to create your magical rose garden – read on!
The Rose’s Blooming Past
While roses have a rich and colorful history in the Northern Hemisphere, they were first cultivated in China roughly 5000 years ago and later showcased in Rome’s magnificent gardens.
Modern rose cultivars emanate from 18th-century Chinese rose varieties, of which the ‘Old Blush’ group is the oldest rose variety known today.
However, Josephine Bonaparte (Napoleon’s wife) deserves much credit for inspiring leading French horticulturalists, and botanists to collect and preserve a vast array of different rose varieties during the 1800s, which were subsequently spread throughout Europe, and across the globe.
Roses are botanically classified under the genus Rosa, which comprises 140-180 different species and forms part of the Rosaceae plant family.
The four main subspecies are as follows:
- Hulthemia (single leaves) refer to roses without stipules and compound leaves.
- Hesperrhodos (western roses) like the Rosa stellata and minutifolia.
- Platyrhodon (flaky roses) like Rosa roxburghii (or Chestnut Roses).
- Rosa genus, which represents all the other rose subgenus.
The Ultimate Guide To Rose Classifications
The American Rose Society classifies all roses into three main groups: old garden roses (heritage/antique roses), species (wild roses), and larger bloom-sized modern roses cultivated after 1867 and bloom through the season.
So, here’s a comprehensive guide to roses, which includes everything you need to know about these sublime flowers.
Old Garden/Heirloom Rose Varieties
Old garden roses, also known as heirloom or heritage roses, were cultivated before 1867, which is seen as the watershed between the old, and modern roses we know today.
Heirloom roses differ from their modern counterparts as they feature double-blooms, long, cut-flower stems, and a sublime fragrance that some would argue are far superior.
Most importantly, they are hardier than modern roses as they are less prone to plant diseases.
Old roses are further divided into groups of roses that only bloom once during their flowering seasons, like Damask, Alba, and Gallica roses, and repeat bloomers like Bourbon and Hybrid roses.
Damask Roses/ Rosa X Damascene
Dating back to Biblical times, Damask roses are probably the oldest and most sublime rose species, which have since been cultivated into two varieties: the aptly named Summer Damask and the Autumn Damask (or The Four Seasons Damask) roses which bloom in their respective seasons.
Unlike most old rose varieties, generous Autumn Damask roses bloom in fall and summer. Damask blooms are renowned for their heady fragrance and gorgeous dark pink, white-and-silver, and flower petals.
So, no wonder Damask roses are used to craft the finest essential oils and perfumes!
Aptly named China roses were brought to Europe from Asia and are the forebearers of the modern roses we know today.
China roses have smaller flower buds with subtle shades of red and pink with a fruity-sweet fragrance cultivated as climbers or small shrubs.
Rosa gallica, or the French rose, is renowned for being one of the most ancient old garden rose varieties, and certain variations even date back to the the12th century.
First cultivated in Europe and believed to have been used in Ancient Rome, Greece, and Medieval gardens, French rose petals that can either be red, pink, purple, or striped contain a heady fragrance used to produce the finest perfumes.
French roses also contain medicinal properties, so they are used for tonics, as an astringent, and for their antibacterial qualities.
While hardy French roses that can grow in the cold or shady locations tend to be rather compact, with intensely fragrant clustered blossoms, they sadly only flower once in summer.
Albas/White Rose of York
Elegant Albas, otherwise known as the White Rose of York, grow upright and tall, with fragrant blooms that are either white or a subtle pink shade, with greyish-green foliage perfect as a climbing plant.
Ayrshire roses that potentially emanate from Scotland have subtly white and pink-and-purple climbing blooms that may reach a staggering height of up to 15 feet and are enormously pliable and easy to grow in the shade, during droughts, or in poor soil.
Named after the Ile de Bourbon Island in the Indian Ocean, the Bourbon Rose, with its leggy upright growth, distinguishes itself from most old roses as its red, pink, and white fragrant flowers bloom more than once.
This cross between Damask and Chinese Roses is a great choice for trellises as it will produce an abundance of spectacular roses throughout the flowering season.
Cabbage Roses/Rosa Centifolia
The aptly named Cabbage Rose features more than a hundred darkish pink flower petals, or Centifolia is known for its divine fragrance, so it’s no wonder that so many brides love these generous flowers!
Cabbage roses require much support due to their heave blooms and propensity to become lanky.
These large, fragrant roses come in a wide variety of colors ranging from red, pink, and white, and purple. It’s also a superb choice for gardeners who are looking for a rose variety that can grow up to 2 meters tall.
Portland roses are an excellent choice for small gardens as they feature small and fragrant pink rosebuds with multiple little petals and light-colored foliage.
Moss roses, which should not be confused with “Ten o’clock roses” or Portulaca Grandiflora, feature a growth on their calyx and sepals, which resembles moss and may produce a pine fragrance if you rub against them.
Blush Noisette Roses
The Noisette is a proudly American old rose that Phillipe Noisette first cultivated in 1815; it produced headily fragrant light pink bloom clusters, which can either resemble a small-sized climbing rose or a tall shrub.
Iconic Tea roses produce large, tea-fragranced blooms with roughly five petals in various colors ranging from pastels to red hues, which normally grow into a V-shaped flowering shrub.
Wild/Species Rose Varieties
Ancient wild or species of roses native to the Northern Hemisphere date back 30-40 million years ago and grow into large and dense shrubbery that can even climb up to 20ft in height.
Approximately 200 wild rose species have not been hybridized, so they are incredibly hardy, require little maintenance, can be grown from seeds or cuttings, and are mostly resistant to common pests and plant diseases.
Wild roses that bloom at the beginning of summer are easy to identify, as they are far less “showy” than other rose cultivars and mostly feature five pink rose petals. Although you might find white or red wildflowers – consider yourself lucky if you find a yellow wild rose as they are incredibly rare!
Prairie Roses/Rosa Arkansana
Like most wild roses, Prairie roses, otherwise known as Rosa arkansana, feature clustered pink flowers that bloom on a straight ramrod stem that contains numerous prickles in the lower region, with diamond-shaped, prickly leaves.
Smooth Roses/Rosa Blanda
Smooth roses feature pink flower petals that fade into white on branching stems. Unlike Prairie roses, these roses only have thorns at the bottom of older stems, with oblong-shaped foliage.
Prickly Wild Roses/ Rosa Acicularis
Rosa acicularis or Prickly roses differ from other wild roses as they are dark red or pink blossoms attached to thorny Climbing stems with elongated or oval-ragged leaves.
Dog Roses/ Rosa Canina
Dating back from the Hippocrates era, pink Dog roses were named after our canine friends due to old wives’ tales that rose hips combat rabid or mad dog bites. While some consider Dog roses a shrub, others classify them as climbers due to the rose’s aggressive or invasive nature.
Carolina roses or Rosa Carolina distinguish themselves from other wild roses as their flowers have a yellow center and are either white or brightly pink colored, with only one bloom per stem. It is the most pervasive wild rose species in the USA.
Native to mountainous areas in southern and central Europe, the cold-hardy Rosa glauca is favored for its grey-green and purple ornamental leaves and minute pastel pink fragrant blooms, with white-colored centers which can grow up to 8’ tall.
Native to Korea and Japan, the Rosa multiflora has tiny leaves and a single white rose blooms which are often grown as a living fence. However, this aggressive grower is classed as an invasive species in certain parts of the US.
Beach Roses/Rosa Rugosa
The aptly named Beach Roses, native to Asia, grow amongst dunes and feature distinctive red, white, and bright pink blossoms with dark-green veiny foliage.
Climbing Roses/Rosa Setigera
Pink Climbing roses bloom in dense clusters on a vining arching stem with lower stem thorns and pointed oval leaf tips.
Shining Roses/Rosa nitida
The Shining rose’s most distinctive feature is its shiny foliage that turns yellow, bright red, or purple in fall. These sweetly fragranced pink roses predominantly grow in swampy areas as a dense shrub.
Silky Roses/Rosa Sericea
Native to China, Silky Roses have white blooms with only four flower petals and much sought-after triangle-shaped ornamental thorns that become bright red.
Modern Rose Varieties
The first modern or hybrid tea rose, “La France,” introduced to French society in 1867, was cultivated as a cross between a Tea Rose and a Hybrid Perpetual, Old Garden Rose.
Modern Roses became enormously popular as they bloomed more than once, unlike their ancestors, and featured an expansive range of gorgeous colors. So, let’s have an informed look at the most popular Modern Roses.
Contrary to their name, Climbing or rambling roses do not climb as effectively as vines would do. Moreover, it is only a description of the rose’s growth pattern and not a classification as they can either be floribunda or Grandiflora varieties.
Like vines, climbing roses feature upright, sturdy fruiting stems or canes that can be trained across garden fences, trellis walls, pergolas, or arbors and can reach a height with a little support of 15 feet.
Climbing roses tend to produce more large blooms when grown horizontally than vertically, and they bloom repeatedly. Popular Climbing rose varieties include Blaze and Dortmund, including Lady Banks roses.
Highly popular Floribunda roses, which are a cross between Hybrid Tea roses, and Polyantha roses
feature big clusters of continuously blooming flowers.
Their flowering periods far outlast the Grandiflora or hybrid tea roses. Moreover, they need very little maintenance, so it’s no wonder that gardeners love them!
Popular Floribunda rose types include Angel Face, Showbiz, and Iceberg roses.
Cultivated in the last century as a cross between the floribunda and hybrid tea roses, the Grandiflora features its forebearers’ best aspects with showy, elegant, clustered blooms that flower continuously like floribunda roses.
Every Grandiflora cluster contains about three or five roses that form part of taller shrubs and are bigger than that of hybrid tea rose varieties.
Although grandifloras are not in demand, they are hardy and vigorous growers that can reach a height of 6ft, which makes them the perfect choice for flowering hedges and a structured landscape.
While not as popular as its close, reputable cousins, the Grandiflora is still quite tough and vigorous, so don’t overlook it for your garden and landscaping needs.
Great examples of Grandiflora varieties include Solitude, Queen Elizabeth, and the Tournament of Roses cultivars.
Hybrid Tea Roses
Hybrid tea roses, with their gorgeous blooms consisting of up to 50 rose petals, with numerous side flower buds, in various colors on long elegant stems, are the most popular rose variety.
Horticulturalists have harnessed that popularity by cultivating thousands of hybrid tea varieties that create showstopper gardens.
Hybrid tea roses are great cut flowers as their blooms last long, and they emit a sublime fragrance. Popular hybrid tea varieties include Peace, Mr. Lincoln, and the Double Delight.
Miniature & Miniflora Roses
Miniature roses, including mini flora roses, are a mix between Grandiflora and hybrid tea roses. They are compact plants with tiny flowering buds that are predominantly cultivated as novelty roses or as indoor plants that bring a pop of color into your home.
While miniature roses can only grow up to 30 inches in height, mini flora roses are a similar, intermediate size to floribunda roses.
Hardy Shrub roses are vigorous growers with generous clusters of gorgeous blooms that can grow 5-15 ft long and can withstand severely harsh winters that most roses would not tolerate. While there are several Shrub rose varieties, the David Austin English Rose is the most prolific cultivar.
Polyantha roses are compact, with an abundance of small flowers, which are like floribunda rose varieties that are perfectly suited for hedges or edging.
These pretty little roses bloom from spring until fall and come in a variety of colors and hues ranging from pastel pinks and postbox red to white and pastel pinks.
These roses are great for novice gardeners and horticulturalists who are looking for a vigorous, disease-resistant, low-maintenance plant, either for small spaces or for container gardening. Popular varieties include the China Doll, The Fairy, and Margo Koster roses.
Tree roses are not bred like other Modern Rose varieties as they are grafted with three superior rose varieties that will result in robust anchoring roots for the tree, elongated upright stems, stunning blooms, and attractive foliage.
Groundcover Roses/Landscape Roses
Landscaping or groundcover roses offer novice gardeners a plethora of advantages as they result in a spectacular, vibrantly hued garden with elegant structures and a divine fragrance.
Additionally, they require very little upkeep, are resistant to garden pests and diseases, and they flower continuously. They are also perfectly suited to fill spaces as they grow vigorously at a maximum height of 3ft.
Rose Color Meanings & Symbolism
Our Victorian ancestors first embraced the subtle language of flowers as it was a covert way of communicating with a potential lover and could even tell them when you would like to meet with them (in the secret, of course).
So, choose the correct color of roses if you want to convey one of the following unspoken messages to that special person in your life:
- Red roses: while this color obviously means “I love you,” it should best be avoided if you want to play it cool in a new relationship, and it is better suited to partners in longstanding relationships or marriages.
- Yellow roses: this is the perfect color to indicate friendship (unless your friend hates the color, of course). However, the yellow color can also denote infidelity or jealousy. So, tread with caution!
- Lavender roses: this is the perfect romantic gift as lavender roses are incredibly rare and, by default, rare; it also denotes splendor, an enchantment, and royalty.
- Pink roses: symbolize grace, joy, and gratitude, making them the perfect alternative to red roses at the beginning of a relationship.
- White roses: while brides have worn white roses to denote innocence and purity, it has since become to symbolize a new love in your life.
A Beginners Guide To Growing Roses
Growing roses might sound challenging, but with the following tips and tricks, you will have a fabulous rose garden in no time!
Roses should ideally be planted in areas with fertile, well-draining soil where they will get at least six hours of sun per day. So, you might have to spend a day popping out into your garden to find the ideal spot.
While roses should ideally be planted at the beginning of spring or during fall, container-based roses can be potted between spring to fall. Although, spring is always the best time to add new plants to any garden.
All rose bushes should be planted in a hole at a depth of approximately 2 ft, whether in your flower bed or a container.
If you are planting it in a container, ensure that it is wide enough to accommodate the plant’s route system comfortably.
Then mix good quality organic matter like well rotten manure into the backfill soil, and tuck in your roses while ensuring that the soil is firmly patted down, following which add another layer of manure around the base of the rose and water it properly.
To promote healthy growth, it’s imperative to water your newly planted roses on a weekly basis with an inch of water at a time during their springtime growing season.
Roses are prone to destructive fungal diseases like powdery mildew and black spot, so avoid overhead watering and use soaker hoses or a soil line to keep their foliage dry while hydrating their roots.
While the addition of well rotten mature springtime applications should provide adequate nutrients, rose fertilizer applications would also promote healthy growth.
Another gardening trick is to apply mulch around the base of your rose bushes, as it helps the plant retain moisture and may protect it during winter seasons.
If you want to keep your roses in a tiptop condition, prune them once the springtime foliage buds start growing and cut them roughly ¼ inch above the leaf bud eyes, and make sure that you remove any unhealthy branches.
While establishing a thriving rose garden might sound challenging, it’s not “rocket science,” and with a little basic tender care, you will have lots of blooming bragging rights!
Nothing compares to the multisensory thrill of a rose’s sublime fragrances and its fragile yet fleeting magnificence. So now that you know you’ve read my ultimate guide to roses – which one is your favorite?