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).