Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rosa 'Safrano'


This is the famous old tea rose ‘Safrano’ – it dates from 1839, very early in the  hybridization of modern garden roses. I grew up being told that tea roses were not hardy in our climate. And indeed that seems to be the prevailing belief even now. But I was intrigued to read Mrs. Keays’ comments from about seventy-five years ago concerning this rose: she said it was “found…in almost every garden in our neighborhood” (her home was near Lusby, Calvert County, Maryland).

Note that it is a tea rose, not a hybrid tea rose. What’s the difference? That question is a lot harder to answer than it might at first seem, because the difference is one of degree and not a difference of kind. One way to put it into perspective is to realize that the original tea roses (there were two) were almost certainly already  hybrids and not, as was originally thought, new species. As a result, seedlings from these plants were much more variable than would have been the case had they been stable, relatively uniform species.  

Furthermore, the first European rosarians to acquire them immediately began to raise seedlings and, later in the nineteenth century, make deliberate crosses. For the rose growers of the early nineteenth century they must have seemed unbelievably sweet eye candy. They differed from the older European garden roses in prevailing flower color, habit of growth, foliage, poise of bloom and season of bloom. That so many of the old European garden roses survive is no doubt due to the one fault these new tea roses had: they lacked cold hardiness and thus they were not good garden plants in extremely cold climates. They were eventually crossed with just about every other compatible rose available, although they were hardly universally compatible for breeding purposes with other garden roses.  As a result, a new and very variable swarm of hybrid  garden roses arose. Throughout the nineteenth century these roses became bigger and more variable with respect to growth habit and hardiness.

By the second half of the nineteenth century it was becoming obvious that the tea group had become a bit unwieldy; the solution was to establish a new class of roses, the now familiar hybrid tea roses. The point of division between the old tea roses and the newly named hybrid tea roses is completely artificial and arbitrary. Basically, roses which produced larger, fuller, upright flowers with stouter canes and coarser foliage  became the hybrid teas. Several roses have been given the distinction of being the “first” hybrid tea; such decisions are a matter of opinion, not of fact. The fact is that all of these earliest hybrid teas were introduced as tea roses.  These early hybrid teas were to be subjected to a profound change at the end of the nineteenth century with the introduction of the genes for strong yellow color. Any rose with the Pernetiana roses in its background is at least as distinct from the other hybrid teas as those earliest hybrid teas were from their tea rose contemporaries. But so thoroughly reticulated has the hybridization of modern hybrid teas been that the only obvious legacies of the Pernetiana group are the bright yellow colors and blends made possible by them and the susceptibility to black spot disease.  

The tea rose shown above is Safrano, a rose which arose so early in the hybridization of modern garden roses that its identity as a tea rose has never been questioned. That’s not the case with the tea roses which were raised in the earliest twentieth century. Later in the year I hope to be able to show you a blossom of the rose ‘William R. Smith’, nominally a tea rose. The stud book, at least what we know of it, says that this is a tea rose. But the flowers, very big for a tea rose and borne on a thick-caned big and relatively hardy plant, say hybrid tea rose, and so it has been called by some observers.

My interest in this distinction between tea roses and hybrid tea roses on the one hand, and the distinction between hybrid tea roses and hybrid perpetual roses on the other hand, goes back to the earliest days of my learning about roses. The books I had were not in agreement about the placement of one rose in particular, the once very famous ‘Frau Karl Druschki’. To look at her, the Frau was a hybrid tea, and was so-considered by many rosarians. Many thought of it as the best white-flowered hybrid tea.  But there were those who waved the stud book, and the book recorded the embarrassing fact that the Frau had one parent which was a hybrid perpetual; in the beliefs of that school of thought this disqualified the Frau for consideration as a “true, pure” hybrid tea.

This sort of thing was important on the show bench, and doubtless reflected a less noble concern with miscegenation in the human population. What always puzzled me is why the Frau was considered to be a Hybrid Perpetual: if one parent was a Hybrid Perpetual and the other parent was a Hybrid Tea, it seems to me that the Frau was neither. But the rules were the rules, and it seems that they were the same for ostensibly white people who just happened to have a drop or two of black blood in the family history: they weren’t “true, pure” white. In retrospect these little social comedies seem to be just that, comedies. But there was a time when people took them seriously, both on the show bench and off.

But back to ‘Safrano’: if this rose settles down in this garden and grows as well as I expect it to, it will be well worth having. A lot has changed in the rose world in the nearly two hundred years since it was raised, and yet this rose has many of the qualities we look for in a good garden rose. It’s a keeper! And as a tea rose it’s also a souvenir of one of the most appreciated and important early phases of the development of our modern garden roses.  

1 comment:

Hoover Boo said...

Teas grow to enormous size here, but I think you almost have a bit of advantage with some cold--to keep their size in check--and your humidity--their thin petals toast so quickly in our drier air.