When you see a rose, what’s likely the first thing you do? Take a sniff? That’s a pretty common response to roses. Yet, when you put your nose up close, you may find a trace of a fragrance, but often not a very strong one. There are a few reasons for that – first, it may be that the variety of rose doesn’t produce much of a fragrance. It could also be the age of the bloom, the time of day, or the differences in our ability to detect certain smells.
Fragrance in flowers is associated with the attraction of pollinating insects so the genetic triggers for releasing fragrance are associated with the time of day and environmental conditions when pollinators are active. Substances detected primarily by human smell are generally those that are soluble in oil. Fragrances are exuded from glands on the lower petal surfaces (and in some cases, leaf surfaces, as with R. eglanteria) and the bristly glands of the moss roses. Sunny, warm weather releases odors found in volatile plant oils. Humidity helps to prolong the smell because it reduces the rate of evaporation. Some of these compounds evaporate faster than others so that the fragrance of a rose can change as the bloom opens.
Much is said about modern roses having little to no fragrance – that certainly has not been my experience. There are many modern roses that have intense fragrance, from the strawberry ice cream colored garden favorite ‘Double Delight’ to the wonderfully lemony floribunda ‘Sunsprite’; the velvety purple ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ to the sunset colors of ‘Sheila’s Perfume’. The American Rose Society Awards Committee can give the James Alexander Gamble Award to outstanding, very fragrant roses. Only 23 roses have been given this honor since the awards inception in 1961 with the latest award going to the dusky red hybrid tea ‘Firefighter’ in 2017.
Listed below are a couple dozen wonderfully fragrant roses; don’t forget to stop and smell the roses!
|Name||Type||Color||ARS Rating||Year Introduced|
|Buff Beauty||Hybrid Musk||Apricot blend||8.4||1939|
|Erfurt||Hybrid Musk||Pink blend||8.4||1939|
|New Dawn||Large-Flowered Climber||Light pink||8.4||1930|
|Nymphenburg||Hybrid Musk||Orange pink||8.4||1954|
|Compassion||Large-Flowered Climber||Orange pink||8.3||1972|
|Double Delight*||Hybrid Tea||Red blend||8.3||1977|
|Mary Rose||Shrub||Medium pink||8.3||1983|
|Mr. Lincoln*||Hybrid Tea||Dark red||8.3||1964|
|Fragrant Cloud*||Hybrid Tea||Orange red||8.1||1967|
|Sheila’s Perfume||Floribunda||Yellow blend||8.1||1982|
|Tiffany*||Hybrid Tea||Pink blend||8.0||1954|
|Granada*||Hybrid Tea||Red blend||7.9||1963|
|Papa Meilland*||Hybrid Tea||Dark red||7.9||1963|
|Wild Blue Yonder*||Grandiflora||Mauve||7.9||2004|
|Firefighter*||Hybrid Tea||Dark red||7.8||2004|
|Falling in Love*||Hybrid Tea||Pink blend||7.6||2006|
* Awarded the James Alexander Gamble Award for Fragrance
By Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian
Roses from top left: ‘Double Delight’, ‘Wild Blue Yonder’, ‘Falling in Love’; photos by the author
Updated December 2019