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….