How well do you remember your high school biology and taxonomy? Ever heard “King Phyl Came Over For Good Spaghetti? That’s a handy pneumonic for taxonomy – the classification of all forms of life. Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. You don’t need to know too much about taxonomy to understand that when we talk of species roses, we are referring to wild roses that have developed on their own without help from us humans, and within the genus Rosa.
There are an estimated 150 – 200 types of wild roses in the world, some supposedly having been around for more than 30 million years. All are native to the northern hemisphere and can be conveniently divided into the geographically defined areas where they are found growing wild – Europe, Asia, the Middle East and America. All, in their natural habitat, will reproduce true-to-type from seeds when pollinated by themselves or others of the same species.
Wild roses are generally grouped by leaf type, hips and arrangement of the styles (the filament that receives pollen and takes it to the ovary.) They generally have simple flowers composed of five petals with a mass of stamens in the center. They produce decorative hips, and generous foliage; some are even evergreen. Many have unusual and beautiful prickles. Fragrance is rare among species roses with some exceptions.
Species roses range in size from low growing, trailing varieties not more than a foot tall, to stiff upright shrub forms to enormous climbers that can reach more than sixty feet. They tend to be vigorous and robust, and rarely suffer much from fungal diseases. They are tough landscape plants and are useful in spots where more delicate roses might fail – sites in blazing sun, dry city gardens, and hot spots near paving, or in poor soil.
One of the most common species rose found in today’s gardens is the Lady Banks rose, Rosa banksiae banksiae (yes, that is the proper name), with an ARS rating of 9.4. This rose exemplifies the health and vigor of this group of roses with its abundant, shiny, disease free foliage, nearly thorn less canes, and abundant bloom. It is probably the most carefree rose you can grow. It is also one of the few species roses that are fragrant. There is also a yellow variety, R. banksiae lutea.
R. filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ is a stunning rose in every season. It is covered with light green shiny foliage spring through fall, and in late May is a solid wall of small white blooms with bright golden stamens. After blooming, it develops small round hips that the birds love. It never has a spot of disease and really deserves the ARS rating of 8.8.
‘Canary Bird’ is a clone of R. xanthina and is festooned with delicate bright yellow blooms along the canes framed by very small, nicely textured leaves. This plant is generally healthy and does reasonably well in a shady location. There is no ARS rating at this time.
R. foetida ‘Bicolor’, otherwise known as ‘Austrian Copper’ is a pretty bicolor rose (ARS rating 7.7). The vivid colors are unusual for species roses. Like many of the species roses, it does spread rapidly, a consideration when choosing a planting site.
Creamy-white, wonderfully fragrant flowers in loose clusters are the hallmarks of R. moschata, (or Musk rose). This ancient rose is a low growing climber with grayish-green foliage that’s resistant to mildew and blackspot and stems with relatively few thorns.
R. gallica verisicolor, otherwise known as Rosa mundi, (ARS rating 9.0) is a beauty when in bloom with the multicolored, red and white to peppermint pink blooms. It is has a fuller flower than most species and is lightly fragrant. It does seem to suffer a bit with powdery mildew.
The Cherokee rose, R. laevigata (ARS rating 8.6), is a climbing rose that can reach 30 feet or more. The three evergreen leaflets are lance shaped, and bears large, fragrant white flowers that are up to four inches, and bright orange-red hips.
If you have some space in your garden for a plant to put on a flower show once a year, remain healthy and display colorful hips, then consider one of the species roses.