Northwest Heritage Rose Registry

The Northwest Heritage Rose Registry is our honor roll of roses and the people whose caring hands have tended these roses for generations. By collecting and sharing our region’s rose history and folklore we are increasing awareness of the cultural value of heirloom roses and the unique relationship these old garden roses and early hybrid teas share with Northwesterners. Central to our mission is replanting roses that have grown on private property for many generations to public spaces of the communities in which these roses were first planted. Linking living history to present times reinforces community identity and sense of place while entrusting our region’s oldest blooms to future generations.

1884 Nothiger-Morse Moss Rose planting - Pioneer Courthouse, Portland , Oregon February 18, 2011

The Northwest Heritage Rose Registry is budding out all over and coming into full bloom. This section of the NWRH blog tells the stories of people and families that have kept our region’s oldest roses alive for 100 years or more. The first two roses were planted at the Pioneer Courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon, and are each over 150 years old. Our next project replants a rose cared for by three generations for over 100 years in Shedd, Oregon. A ceremonial planting of a rose in memory of Mary Drain Albro took place on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon on February 14, 2011. This was the 75th anniversary date of her founding the Pioneer Rose Association. Read more about these historic roses and the amazing people who care enough to keep them growing for over a century. Up coming posts will have photographs, stories and so much more.

Do you know of any century roses that should be included in the Northwest Heritage Rose Registry? Listing roses in this honor roll of living history preserves family stories and rose heritage that is much too important to lose. Please contact us.

A Rose by Many Names

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare penned these lines for Juliet perhaps knowing they would ring just as true more than five centuries later. As scientists unravel the mystery and history surrounding the ancestral lineage of roses through DNA testing, common names persist, adding confusion as well as recognition when identifying roses.

Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Old Blush (1759 - 1840)

Old Blush China, Pink Daily, Monthly Rose, Parson’s Pink or the Last Rose of Summer; take your pick. The Rosa indica vulgaris is known by these and many other names.  As part of a large wagon train, on May 1, 1852 Mr. Benjamin Robert Biddle and his nephew, Dr. James Robert Cardwell, left the Missouri River with a heavy load of nursery stock and dreams of setting up a nursery and fruit ranch in the Willamette Valley of the Oregon Territory. On a steep hillside along the banks of the Snake River their wagon overturned dumping the entire collection into the swiftly moving current.  All was swept away with the exception of one rose. That surviving Old Blush became known in the Willamette Valley as the Biddle Rose and was later known as the Cardwell Rose. Dr. Cardwell grew cuttings from his rose until the end of his days in 1916.

Common usage names can be regional, associated with persons or events, descriptive of characteristic form or bloom time, or just plain whimsical. Chapeau du Napoleon, also know as Napoleon’s Hat or Crested Moss, Rosa centifolia cristata, does indeed resemble Napoleon’s trademark tricrom hat. Favored by romantic Victorians, this unusual fragrant rose was essential for gardens of the era and is said to have been traveling across the plains and around the Horn with other migrating roses.

Rosa centifolia cristata, Chapeau du Napoleon, Heirloom Roses - St. Paul, Oregon

Nomenclature is fraught with peril and we at Northwest Rose Historians do not claim to have all the answers. Especially difficult is identifying Old Garden Roses found in cemeteries, tucked away into corners of farmsteads, or growing along byways.  Many Found Roses will never regain their previous common or scientific names and are often renamed after the person who ‘found’ the rose. This includes many old garden roses and early hybrid teas once common in Northwest gardens. Cross pollination occurs in the wild, or ‘sports’ can spontaneously off-shoot developing into a whole new rose. Some introduced roses have naturalized to the point of being mistaken for native. So, “What’s in a name?” — a lot of mystery and history waiting to be uncovered….


Pioneer Rose Trail

Thirty-two million year old fossilized rose fragments discovered by Steven Manchester in the John Day Fossil Beds of eastern Oregon were harbingers to the cultivated wild and imported roses traveling westward in the 1800s as priceless treasures linking pioneers to homes and loved ones they were leaving behind. Pioneers began the perilous two thousand mile overland trek under differing circumstances. Many were well equipped but others were ill prepared, lacking enough supplies, equipment or fortitude to endure the unimaginable hardship, deprivation and loss of life that accompanied their hopes and dreams of a better life in the wide open frontier. Multitudes of women eagerly embraced the adventure but others were painfully uprooted from homes, left with no choice but to follow westward bound husbands and migrating family. Diaries and letters attest to tearful partings between loved ones separating for all time.

     “The saddest parting of all was when my mother took leave of her aged and sorrowing mother, knowing full well that they would never meet again…”    

                                     Martha Gay Masterson, pioneer of 1852*

Rosa foetida harisonii and lounging insect, Tartar Old Rose Collection, Bush's Pasture Park Salem, Oregon

Rosa foetida harisonii and lounging insect, Tartar Old Rose Collection, Bush's Pasture Garden Park Salem, Oregon

Handed down from mother to daughter, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor or dug from one’s own dooryard garden, pioneer women packed roses along with their Bibles, quilts and dishes. Tender slips, cuttings and roots stowed in buckets, rooted in potatoes and even in tea cups needed protection from freezing temperatures and drying heat. When crossing arid lands women shared their own scarce drinking water with their precious cargo to keep it alive. Not all roses crossed the plains successfully. Wagons broke down and overworked animals died, possessions were abandoned and some pioneers took to foot carrying what they could on their backs and the carefully packed roses perished or were planted trailside. Legend has it that one could travel westward following roses marking tragedy on the trail.

Six to eight months later most travelers did arrive, fanning out across the land. New homes were constructed, essential kitchen gardens seeded and carefully planted and tended surviving roses symbolized triumph over adversity, providing a sense of place in a wild unfamiliar landscape. These spreading roots and bountiful canes of fragrant blooms were generously shared; weaving distant former lives with hopeful new beginnings, kindling friendships with strangers while evoking memories of days gone by and those left behind.

*From the excellent book, One Woman’s West, by Martha Gay Masterson, edited by Lois Barton, Spencer Butte Press, 1986.

Stay tuned for a future post about Steven Manchester’s amazing rose fossil discovery.