Bourbon Rose: The Prequel

Histoire des plantes de la Guiane Françoise, rangées suivant la méthode sexuelle, avec plusieurs mémoires sur différens objets intéressans,
relatifs à la culture & au commerce de la Guiane Françoise, & une notice des plantes de l’Isle-de-France (1775)
Par M. Fusée Aublet

People who know that the Rosebush is not a native plant in Isle de France, will be surprised that I have been able to collect a large enough quantity of Roses to extract the essential oil, especially if the experience has taught them how little essential oil the Rose petal provides. As a matter of fact, when I arrived in this country, I could only discover one rose stalk which had been brought from Brazil a few years before by M. Kerguelin; but this specimen, the wood of which was old and which could not be cut, gave no flowers. I obtained some branches by artifice (?) which the owner of the Rosebush refused, for fear of harming his shrub. I cultivated these cuttings with care: they soon took root, and the same year gave me flowers & enough to make many cuttings. Finally, the vegetation being almost without interruption in this country, I had, in the space of eighteen months or two years, palisades, hedges of this Rosebush which gave me enough flowers for various medicines, needed by the Island Hospital and the Company’s vessels. When the manna* failed me, I substituted Roses for several kinds of laxative & purgative remedies, especially with the Syrup of Roses. But this consumption always leaving me Roses leftover, because the Roses multiply every day & this species gives two harvests, I undertook to make an essential oil or rose butter, similar to that which the vessels showed us returning from India, and which they put at a very high price. The information that I gave to the Travelers, and above all to the Missionaries and the Indians, not having been able to make me discover the process of India, I was obliged to seek it; but it was only after many fruitless attempts that I succeeded in the procedure which has just been read. I have sent considerable quantities of this excellent perfume to France several times. The decoction which had been recoiled several times on new Roses served as the base for a syrup of Roses which was purged, at a dose of two or three ounces, like such a dose of manna. After having recoiled the rose water three & four times, I distilled it in a water bath, & the product was a rose water superior to that which comes from Persia.
*Manna: Secretion from Fraxinus ornus and F. excelsior, prescribed as a mild laxative.

According to the Wikipedia entry for Fusée Aublet,

"He joined the French East India Company and in 1752 was sent to Mauritius (then known as l’Île de France) to establish a pharmacy and a botanical garden. He became involved in an intense rivalry with Pierre Poivre, a fellow botanist at the Mon Plaisir garden, and eventually left to establish a new garden at Le Réduit.

When Aublet returned to France in 1762, he was appointed to a position as the King’s apothecary and botanist in French Guiana. He arrived at the colonial capital, Isle de Cayenne, in August 1762 and spent the next two years collecting plants and assembling a vast herbarium."

In his report of his experiences, he mentions only one rose, Rosa bifera, In Mauritius and French Guiana. This is not proof that no other rose was around at the time, but it does make sense that this species is the one most likely to be carried to the Tropics and Sub-tropics because it is medicinal and blooms without winter chilling. Apparently this was not always considered, though. Ligon (A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, 1657) wrote: “Rose trees we have, but they never bear flowers.”

I was surprised to learn that this rose reached Mauritius from Brazil, rather than directly from Europe. And I am increasingly inclined to regard Mauritius and Ile Bourbon as the stopping places for the French East India Company and the English counterpart. It seems entirely likely that the first China Roses passed through these islands on their way to England or France. The earliest mention I’ve found of Rosa bengalensis was in the St Germaine catalog (Paris) for 1784.

Other roses were subsequently added.

It is worth mentioning that Frezier (1716) reported finding roses growing wild in Chile.
“The roses come naturally to the hills without having been planted, and the most frequent species which grows there is either less thorny than in France, or quite thornless.”
Without a description, I can’t say for sure that Frezier could distinguish a rose from some other plant. He cited Father Feüillée in regards to another plant (Alstroemeria), but Feüillée did not mention any roses in his books. As with other writers I’ve consulted, he was interested in native plants.

But then we come to the Chilean roses Burbank received from that country. Whether these are cultivated plants gone wild, or modern introductions I can’t say.

Plants gone wild is not unusual. There was some confusion in the late 19th century after Baker (1881) described a newly discovered species growing in the Andes: Hippeastrum andreanum. This turned out to be the South African Amaryllis Belladonna (Auct. non L).

“I obtained some branches by artifice (?) which the owner of the Rosebush refused, for fear of harming his shrub.”

He asked permission to take cuttings but Kerguelin refused because he didn’t want to damage his plant. Aublet got them anyway “by artifice” - hook or crook. My guess is he bribed the gardener.

I have been painfully translating (thanks, Google) parts of De Succi Rosarum temperature, nec non de Rosis Persicis, quas Alexandrinas vocant, libellus (1540), by the Spanish physician Nicolás Bautista Monardes. He made it very clear that the main reason for having this rose was for its use as a laxative. He compared it to Cassia (tuber), which has since been confused with Senna (bark).

But more to the point, he explained that the Persian rose was called Alexandrian because medicines from Persia were shipped to SpaIn through the port of Alexandria. He then noted that people of other lands called it Damascene because they believed it was from Damascus in Syria.

In parts of Italy the Musk rose was called Damascene, but that seems to have been an anomaly. The rose Monardes described had a color between white and red. He further noted that the use of the Persian rose as a laxative had been known in Spain for only around 30 years. That makes it ca. 1510.

He also went into some detail about the preparation of the medicine, which is not much different from what Fusée Aublet later described. But if Monardes used a still, I’m not seeing it in my Google-translation.

Monardes (1540) wrote about a sort of jam made of equal parts rose petals and honey. He insisted that the “nail” (the little white bit at the base of the petal) be removed. I assume that “equal parts” are measured by weight, but I’m not betting. I gather that this concoction served as a mild laxative or “stool softener”.

I checked with John Gerard (1597) and found general agreement: “The juice of these Roses, especially of the Damaske, doth move to the stoole, and maketh the belly soluble: but most effectually of the Muske Roses, next to them is the juice of the Damaske, which is more commonly used.”

While thinking on these matters I remembered the old fable of the Magic Rose Lady of Guadalupe. As the story goes, “She then sent him to the top of the hill to cut roses that would be a signal for the bishop. Immediately Juan Diego climbed the hill, and as he reached the summit, he was amazed that so many varieties of exquisite Castilian roses were blooming.” This supposedly occurred in mid-December, 1531.

First problem, Castilian rose was another name for the Persian rose, and there is nothing miraculous about this monthly rose flowering in December. In fact, in a letter dated February 13, 1753/54, Peter Collinson of London wrote to John Bartram of Philadelphia, " I have the marsh Rose Raised some years agon from thy Seed & flowers annually with this advantage after other Roses except the Monthly damask which keeps flowering untill near Xmas, nay for several years I have gather’d Budds on that Day when the Season has been Mild." If a rose can bloom in December in London, it should be quite at home flowering in the Mexican winter.

When I started collecting old lists of roses I paid little attention to the alleged medicinal uses. I was wrong to do so. In fact, it is now apparent that at least one rose made the long trip from Persia, to Egypt, to Spain and Mexico and Brazil and Mauritius and finally to ile Bourbon. All this travel because humans are so often cursed with constipation.

And at Bourbon, the Persian met another traveler, Rosa bengalensis, that picked up this foreign name on its trip from China, through India, to Bourbon.

Where would we be without the Bourbon rose, the founding stock of the Hybrid Perpetuals. And from those came the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, and many of the Hybrid Musks and Austin Roses.

All because of a laxative.

Any idea where R. gigantea entered the modern rose gene pool?

According to Hurst (1941), the pink China rose exhibits traits derived from R. chinensis Jacq. and R. gigantea Collett. So, Gigantea genes were likely present in the original Bourbon rose. A second dose came in with the Tea-scented rose, and its light yellow self-seedling. I assume that Parks’ White and Yellow China also contributed.

Meng et al, Untangling the hybrid origin of the Chinese tea roses (2011) gave some useful information about the Chinese roses. For example, They studied ‘Yue yuehong’, the rose usually called ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ (even though Slater never had it). They found that it has geens and markers derived from R. chinensis var. spontanea, R. odorata, R. multiflora and R. luciae var. luciae. The chloroplast haploid matches R. chinensis var. spontanea, indicating that this species was the seed parent. The Tea-scented roses have a less complicated lineage, and are close to ‘Old Blush’.

Checking my notes I find that Hurst (1941) also provided further confirmation of my thesis:
“In the sixteenth century NICOLAS MONARDES, a Spanish physician, wrote a medical treatise on the Roses of Persia or Alexandria, which he said the Italians, Gauls, Germans and others call Damascenae because they believe them to have come from Damascus. His description agrees with the Autumn Damask Rose although he says nothing of its flowering twice a year. There is, however, indirect evidence that these Spanish Damask Roses did flower twice a year, for M. Lachaume, writing to the Journal des Roses in 1879 from Havannah, Cuba, states that in almost every Spanish home in Cuba there is the antique Quatre-Saisons Rose, which in Cuba is universally known as the Alexandria Rose.”

Saint Germaine catalogue (1784) lists Rosa bengalensis, the French name for the Pink China, as well as R. indica.
If I had a time machine …
In addition, the catalog lists “biflora fl. pleno, carneo. Gu. Aub.” (that’s Aublet, mentioned before, after he moved to South America), alexandrina, and “semperflorens. Ros. de tous les mois.”

Here is Lachaume’s statement that Hurst mentioned:

Il existe à La Havane, depuis plus de deux cents ans, un rosier que l’on appelle vulgairement Alexandrie, qui, je crois, est l’ancienne rose que l’on cultivait dans les colonies égyptiennes, qui servait a la fabrication de l’essence de rose de l’antiquité. Ce sont les Maures qui ont apporté cette variété en Espagne, et les premiers colons l’ont introduit ici à Cuba.

Cette rose est une espèce de Quatre-Saisons à fleurs larges, fleurissant par bouquets de cinq à quinze roses. Elle se multiplie très-facilement de boutures prises sur vieux bois; elle est très-appréciée à La Havane à cause de son parfum particulier.

There has been in Havana, for more than two hundred years, a rosebush that is commonly called Alexandria, which, I believe, is the old rose that was cultivated in the Egyptian colonies, which was used to make the essence of rose from antiquity. It was the Moors who brought this variety to Spain, and the first settlers brought it here to Cuba.

This rose is a species of Four-Seasons with large flowers, blooming in clusters of five to fifteen roses. It multiplies very easily from cuttings taken from old wood; it is very popular in Havana because of its peculiar scent.

When I started this thread, I only wanted to documents a few facts. But it seems that facts attract other facts.

Voyage a l’Isle de France (1773) p. 220
Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre

This travelogue includes a number of letters. Number XIV, dated Au Port-Louis de l’Isle de France; ce 10 Juin 1769., deals with the Trees and Shrubs brought to the island.
“WE have here the rose bush which multiplies so easily that it is made into hedges. Its flower is neither so tufted nor so fragrant as ours; there are several varieties, among others a small species from China, which flowers all year round.”

The first sentence confirms what were were told by Fusée Aublet: hedges of his “Rosa biflora”. In addition, we now know that an everblooming China Rose was already cultivated on Mauritius in 1769.

And this may connect with a statement by Joseph-François Charpentier de Cossigny de Palma: “In 1767, I brought from Bengal, where I had been taking a trip, all I could procure me in the kind of plants, among others the tree of incense, which I have myself presented to the national garden of the ile de France,…” Among the botanical goodies was “the Tricolor Rose”, whatever that may have been. I would love to see the whole list of what he delivered.

Back in France, there was other business going on. I have a reference to Rosa bengalensis from 1784, but no description or source. In the meantime, I have found some connection of this rose with André Dupont, A.-L. Jussieu and Michaux. Apparently Dupont had an imaginative approach to spelling.

André Dupont (1742-1817) - A Palace and Roses (2020)
Vincent Derkenne

Some plates pose enigmas insofar as the names cited were perhaps provisional names that have not been retained over time; sometimes others allow progress to be made in the search for the missing link in the reconstruction of the history of a rose.

Thus, when in a folder called > Bengalensis diversifolia semperflorens, > Dupont mentions on a plate > “Leaves and Branches of Bengalensis Michaux ille de France the petals are large and sharp” > and on an envelope of stuck petals > “petals of a variety of semperflorens cynensis sent by Michaud in 1802 and came up same spring at Cels, the petals are sharp and large”, > this probably concerned two different samples, compared to ensure that it was the same rose.

This rose can indeed be found in the herbarium of A.-L. de Jussieu with the mention > “Rosa bengalensis donated by the C. Dupont 1800”.

It is the > “Semperflorens purple crimson” > that he calls (cat. 1813 ex Thory 1819): > “Rosa semperflorens, simple purple”, > that is to say, > Rosa chinensis > ‘Semperflorens’ or Ventenat’s > Rosa diversifolia.

{p.219} Dupont brings here strong arguments to make the connection between Michaux and Cels. But this does not explain the origin of the 1800 samples, since Michaux did not approach in Ile-de-France (nowadays Mauritius) until March 1801! Is it a slip of the tongue from Jussieu?

Without dates, this bit loses some value. But at least we have a single-flowered crimson China roses associated with Mauritius.

I started searching on Rosa alexandrina (or alejandrina), and found myself in Spain. This rose was an emblem of feminine beauty, apparently. The translations are a bit rough: 21st century Google translations of much older texts.

Carlo Famoso. [A poem.]
By Luys ZAPATA · 1566
p. 199
Y entre tanta lindeza crystalina
De que la sala toda llena estaua,
Doña Ysabel Osorio que menina
Era, entre tantas damas relumbraud:
Y a la color de rosa alexandrina
A despuntar entonces començaua,
Y quando à madur aruino la rosa,
Lleuo el precio à la fin de mas hermosa.

And among so much crystalline beauty
That the room was all full,
Doña Ysabel Osorio what a girl
It was, among so many dazzling ladies:
And to the color of Rosa alexandrina
To emerge then began,
And when the rose matured,
I bring the price to the end of more beautiful. [Any help with this line would be appreciated]

Varias rimas de Don Miguel Colodrero de Villalobos 1629
p. 174
No a visto al nacer del Sol,
En la Rosa Alexandrina,
Purpura nadando en leche,
Pues assi son sus mexillas.

He has not seen the sunrise,
In the Rosa Alexandrina,
Scarlet swimming in milk
Well, that’s how her cheeks are.
[purpura is also the color of the cloth used in a cardinal’s vestments, so I went with “scarlet” rather than “purple”.]

And now a “modern” work on pharmaceuticals.

Elementos de farmacia fundados en los principios de la química moderna (1802)
By Francisco Carbonell (Barcelona)
p. 34
ROSA: Es una planta oficinal de que se usan las flores, y hay de dos especies; á saber, la Rosa Alexandrina, llamada por Linneo Rosa centifolia; y la Rosa rubia llamada por el mismo Rosa Gallica.

ROSA: It is an official plant from which the flowers are used, and there are two species; namely, the Rosa Alexandrina, called by Linnaeus Rosa centifolia; and the blond [i.e., Red] rose called by the same [Linnaeus] Rosa Gallica.

The confusion among Damascena, Centifolia, Gallica and Provincialis continues into the 21st century. I recently found a 2009 article on Alternaria tenuis Blackspot on Rosa centifolia grown in Pakistan for perfume.

Karl, I can’t tell you how much pleasure your contribution brought me. The rose is a theme that threads through cultures for centuries, and I especially enjoyed an actual sample of antique poetry to convey the complex emotions and thoughts of rose lovers who have gone before us. My Spanish teacher would be very pleased with the graceful verses in an antique idiom of Castilian. Gracias por tener la bondad de iluminarnos.

I am happy that you are enjoying my digging. I have been surprised by what is out there, once I scrape away some of the dust.

In Portuguese the name is spelled with a J instead of an X: Rosa Alejandrina. I am surprised to see how often these two words are included in personal names. See for yourself:"Rosa+Alejandrina"&oq="Rosa+Alejandrina"&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i59j69i60.1314j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

When have you ever met a woman named Hybrid Tea Rose Smith, or Betsy Rosa borboniana Jackson? The fascinating differences of cultures!

But the best news (for me, today) is that the hero of this story is mentioned in a recent publication, Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary by James A. Duke, 2018. I can only see snippets of the book online, so I can’t say for sure that Rosa Alejandrina is also the Rosa del remedio. But I have my fingers crossed.

Extremely fascinating!

Years ago I read the beautiful novel Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquirel. In one scene, the ghost of Tita’s great-great (etc.) grandmother showed up with an ancient Aztec recipe for quails with rose petal sauce. This has bothered me a bit. I’m okay with ghosts bringing yummy recipes, but I draw the line at anachronistic roses.

But now that we know that the Spaniards brought Alexandrian roses to the New World as a medicine, rather than as mere vanities, we can be more confident in assuming that their introduction was sooner rather than later. The bogus rose miracle of Guadalupe gives us a date: 1531.

Furthermore, we know that the Aztecs were master gardeners, and creative cooks.

So, I am happy to accept that a recipe dating to the mid-16th century could be regarded as “ancient” in the late 20th, even if it is the invention of a very inventive author.

The movie is also very good.

I am still enjoying Libro de Agricultura, an 1802 Spanish translation of a mid-12th century work by Yahyà b. Muhammad Ibn al-Áwwam.

I want to cite a couple of items that he copied from Abu-Abdalah Ebn-el-Fasél, author of Nabatean Agriculture. I don’t have the date, but we’re back in the Middle East.

“… there are four species of rose; double white of an exquisite perfume, known by that generic name, and that unfolds more than a hundred leaves from a single chalice; tawny the color of yellow narcissus; dark violet; and incarnata, which is common. The pink one has a softer and more penetrating odor, and more xugious [juicy?] than the tawny and the dark one: all species of which require cultivation and irrigation.”

These seem familiar enough: Alba, Foetida, Tuscan, and Damask, though I’m not making any bets.

Then there are the methods of propagation described by the same author.

“It is planted … of its seed, of its split branch, whole or in pieces, of cut buds, and of rooted cuttings. It is also layered to transplant after the roots are reared. And the same operation is done to it, adapting it to the site that is wide and comfortable.”

I don’t want to speculate too far ahead of evidence, but I’m wondering whether Alba was called Centifolia before Dutch gardeners bred the modern version.

Wikipedia to the rescue:

The > Nabataean Agriculture > (Arabic: كتاب الفلاحة النبطية‎, romanized: Kitāb al-Filāḥa al-Nabaṭiyya, lit. ‘Book of the Nabataean Agriculture’), also written > The Nabatean Agriculture> , is a 10th-century text on agronomy by Ibn Wahshiyya, from Qussīn in present-day Iraq. It contains information on plants and agriculture, as well as on magic and astrology. It was frequently cited by later Arabic writers on these topics.

The > Nabataean Agriculture > was the first book written in Arabic about agriculture, and the most influential. Ibn Wahshiyya claimed that he translated it from a 20,000-year-old Mesopotamian text. Though some doubts remain, modern scholars believe that the work may be translated from a Syriac original of the 5th or 6th century AD. In any case, it is clear that the work is ultimately based on Greek and Latin agricultural writings, heavily supplemented with local material.

I’d love to see this written up as a “paper.” Your research needs to be enjoyed by all of us rose-history enthusiasts! Imagine with great photos.

Maybe someday, but I’m still not far back enough. I need to know the origin of the Fabulous Five: the Red, the Pink, the White, the Other White and the Yellow.
It is easy to talk about Rosa gallica as if we know all about it, but where did it start out? From what I’ve read, every place where it seems to be native turns out to be a place where it was formerly cultivated. And as for the globose hip, that is apparently not a fixed trait.
Rosa alba is another mystery. It is the only Caninae species with diploid pollen. The stability of its breeding system suggests that is not a recent hybrid. Blackhurst (1948) and Heslop-Harrison (1954) found that crosses between irregular and regular tend to collapse into regularity.
The mysteries of Rosa damascena and R. moschata are old news, but Rosa foetida also has no obvious home. It thrives in Palestine and Italy, but rarely bears hips.

ISHS Acta Horticulturae 836: XXIII International Eucarpia Symposium, Section Ornamentals: Colourful Breeding and Genetics (2009)
L. Samiei, R. Naderi, A. Khalighi, A.-A. Bushehri, V. Mozaffarian, D. Esselink, M.J.M. Smulders
Rosa foetida is a dense, erect shrub with bright yellow or scarlet flowers with a yellowish reverse petal. It is most abundant in South West Asia. In Iran R. foetida occurs mainly in the mountainous North and West regions. The species is the origin of the strong yellow color in hybrid roses, which was introduced into modern cultivars in 1900 through a single species hybridization event. In this study we have used 10 microsatellite markers to determine diversity in Rosa foetida accessions collected across Iran. To our surprise, nearly all samples collected were of the same genotype, even when collected at different sites. Only four different genotypes have been detected in total. The results are discussed in relation to breeding system, human influence and overall gene pool status.

I do not enjoy fussing with Latin, but it has to be done.
l’Obel (1571) started by listing the three “Sativas” (domesticated roses):
Rubra privins, Candida, Pallida.
I assume these align with what we call Gallica, Alba and Damascena

He goes on to suggest what seems to have been a lot of mixing among those types.

Tres hae insigniores sativae differentiae sunt, quae, quòd sexcentis serè lenocinijs, colores, odores sapores, magnitudinem, numerumque foliorum, & vires demutare queant: & soleant fieri praeproperȩ, serotinȩ, brumales, non sunt huius instituti.

This is not very clear. The best I can get from it is:
There are three more notable differences among the cultivated Roses, which can be changed by almost six hundred enticements(?), colors, smells, tastes, size, and number of leaves, and strength; and they are wont to be done too soon, in late spring, and in winter, they are not of this institution.

Anyone who can actually read Latin and is willing to help, will be most appreciated.


The post above was approved because it translates (per Google) to “There are very few bourbons left now”

And from my own experience, the roses that have been passed along are not recognizably “bourbon-y”.

My original Bourbon beginner’s collection included Reine Victoria, Boule de Neige, Reine des Violettes and Zéphyrine Drouhin. Take a long look at these and try to see what quality they share, aside from rebloom. I think part of my fascination with the supposed group has to do with my frustration.

It should be easy enough to repeat the original cross, paying more attention to some details (perfume, easy rooting). But we will soon have to admit that the Bourbon class was filled with more complicated hybrids involving Noisettes, Chinas, Teas and whatnot.