What in the world are single roses? Roses that grow individually on a stem or plant? Roses that like to grow alone? Well, neither – when we refer to “single roses” we are referring to the form of the flower, in particular the number and arrangement of the petals. Petals are the most visible portion of the flower, and a rose can have anywhere from no petals, like Rosa chinensis viridflora, known as the ‘Green Rose’; with no petals at all (it’s actually covered by lots of sepals) to many old garden and English roses that may 100 petals or more. The number of petals, or petal count, is a measure of the fullness of the rose. Single roses are defined by the American Rose Society (ARS) to have between four and eight petals, while roses categorized as semi-double have nine to sixteen petals, double blooms have 17 – 25 petals, full blossoms are 26 – 40 and very full are 41 or more. More than 41 petals sound like a lot, but in the world of roses, it isn’t all that many.
All roses were originally singles composed of five petals, except for one four-petaled species. As natural mutations occurred that replaced stamens and pistils with additional petals, semi-double and double roses appeared. These growing oddities (at the time) were saved and propagated by gardeners. Flowers of hybrid teas, floribundas, and other rose classes with China and Tea roses prevalent in their ancestry, have a lower petal count and their petals are larger and longer. These mature flowers have a much looser appearance than old garden roses. Today, a double rose with 17 – 25 petals is the norm.
I began my romance with single roses many years ago – it was their wonderful simplicity that attracted me initially, and then I found out how easy they were to care for. The fuller the flower, the longer it takes to open, and if there is any moisture around, they can “ball” up and never open at all, or worse yet, they can tend to attract botrytis blight and rot on the plant. While that is extreme, most roses with very full blooms don’t open unless they get a lot of heat. With few petals, the rose opens easily, and many of the plants are “self-cleaning” – they drop their petals when they are spent. Good news for the gardener – there’s less need for deadheading right away to keep the plants looking good.
Outstanding single roses come from just about every type of rose from species and hybrid musks to hybrid teas and miniatures. They also come in lots of colors. I’ve had the good fortune to grow most of the roses on this list, and with minor exceptions, I can say that they generally perform better than roses with more petals. While the number of petals certainly has a lot to do with it, it is also related to their heritage, and since many are hybridized from species that have proven durability. Sizes range from giant versions like ‘Kiftsgate’ grows easily to 10 by 20 feet and is spectacular in bloom. A more modest size plant is ‘Mrs. Oakly Fisher’ that stays about four feet tall; its new rich plum colored foliage is a great contrast to the apricot blooms. And the adorable orange blend miniature ‘Gizmo’ is a prolific bloomer. Regardless which you choose, you can’t go wrong with singles!
|Name||Type||Color||ARS Rating||Year Introduced|
|Irish Elegance||Hybrid Tea||Orange blend||8.9||1905|
|Dortmund||Hybrid Kordesii||Medium red||8.8||1955|
|Mutabilis||Hybrid China||Yellow blend||8.8||<1894|
|Complicata||Hybrid Gallica||Pink blend||8.7||no date|
|Robin Red Breast||MiniFlora||Red blend||8.7||1983|
|Golden Wings||Shrub||Light yellow||8.6||1956|
|Ballerina||Hybrid Musk||Medium pink||8.5||1937|
|Poulsen’s Pearl||Floribunda||Light pink||8.5||1949|
|Altissimo||Large-Flowered Climber||Medium red||8.4||1966|
|Dagmar Hastrup||Hybrid Rugosa||Light pink||8.4||1914|
|Dainty Bess||Hybrid Tea||Light pink||8.4||1925|
|Fruhlingsmorgen||Hybrid Spinosissima||Pink blend||8.4||1942|
|La Marne||Polyantha||Pink blend||8.4||1915|
|My Sunshine||Miniature||Medium yellow||8.4||1986|
|R. rubiginosa||Species||Light pink||8.4||<1551|
|Fred Loads||Shrub||Light pink||8.3||1968|
|Knock Out||Shrub||Red blend||8.3||1999|
|Kathleen||Hybrid Musk||Light pink||8.2||1922|
|Mrs. Oakley Fisher||Hybrid Tea||Light pink||8.2||1921|
|Betty Prior||Floribunda||Medium pink||8.1||1935|
By Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian
Photos from top left ‘Complicata’, ‘Kiftsgate’, ‘La Marne’, ‘Gizmo’; all photos by the author
Updated December 2019