Breeding from species

Cass Bernstein Posted on Sat, Aug 16, 2008 some cpmments that did not get enough attention. At least from me.

----I wonder how many of you have read Guns, Germs & Steel? The messages concerning domesticated plants are pretty clear. (1) Domesticated species spread by latitude because a common latitude is where the climate zones exist for optimal growth. IOW, a rose well-adapted to latitude 32 is not going to be optimal in latitude 50. So breeding using species adapted to the target latitude makes a lot of sense for basic survivability. (2) The actual number of domesticated species compared to their close relatives is very, very small. That’s because the actual number suitable for domestic use is really rather limited. I wonder if using species that have proven successful in the past is the most likely avenue to success. Wide species crosses may produce interesting results, but in the long run, I have my doubts how useful those novelties will be - Lens’s R. multibracteata x stellata being a case in point.

Another question I’ve never seen addressed satisfactorily is why hybridizers spend little time selecting from within a species. One of the many lessons of Walter Lewis’s doctoral thesis from…1959?.. is the remarkable range of variation within a species. We know this intuitively, and it was used in hardy roses breeding in the USA (Hansen) and in Canada. I see little mention of it otherwise. I appreciate the practical difficulties in doing this, but I suspect it is often overlooked. Botanical garden material is already self-limited – where seedlings are usually selfs. And some species are clearly more uniform (i.e. from a more limited geographic area, perhaps even isolated) than others. But species like R. californica are dazzlingly, shockingly diverse, from foliage surface to armature to size. When I hear someone say they’ve used R. californica for breeding, my immediate question is: which one?

My last point is that, in light of all this, it wouldn’t surprise me if the major breakthrough in terms of disease resistance comes not from novel crosses but from genetic engineering by inserting the genes of species immune to certain fungal complaints (as R. laevigata is) into a modern cultivar, to create a super breeder. —


There are a few research about the last point with people such as the german Debener team looking for dominant monogenic resistance. I said him that if there were one such gene long ago it would be spoted and introgressed. And when generalized it will be broken down unintentionally selecting a new desease strain.

About Laevigata that superb species with leathery glossy desease free foliage I know one specimen that growing in a shady if airy place is miserably mildewing every year.

Another point of yours: …why hybridizers spend little time selecting from within a species…

Excellent remark I share. When breeding for frost resistance selecting species individuals from the coldest area seems obvious and not so much done.

Considering desease resistance there are a lot of difficulties in testing. I do not think someone can say he has collected all and every strain of a given funghus. Maintaining them in a laboratory appears not to be easy.

Even testing is difficult. I.e. I red somewhere that lab tested rugosa leaves are not as desease resitant as they are in gardens. I would like we had “plant introduction” clones banks with known resistance such as many plant breeders use.

Selecting decorative sp features was done at the very beginnings. There was then a “market” for species novelties with many “grandiflora” or “duplex” forms some whose botanical authenticity may be doubtfull.

Domestication is a quite different applied to ornamentals than to food crops.

Great comments Pierre.

Disease problems can be area specific which leads me to believe that attempts could be made to breed for certain climates.

Better yet, it seems a standardized system for testing disease resistance across the U.S. and Europe with grading for each area should be implemented and funded by national rose organizations.

I’d like to see the A.R.S. turn completely away from recommendations for anything toxic to the environment and concentrate on helping us with our goals with the elimination of rose shows for competition in favor of educational exhibitions with a focus on own-root cultivars selected for garden performance.

I started suggesting this decades ago but was ignored or even ridiculed for suggesting such a thing and here we are.

As you know many still have their heads in the sand. Of course they will never admit they were wrong. All we can do is go forward.

Fortunately there is a new generation of gardeners coming along that should better embrace responsible gardening concepts.


I thoroughly enjoyed your Pedigree post. I have read through it several times. I am fairly new to hybridizing but through many of the people on this forum I have learned so much. I have somewhat set an objective to breed some type of prairie rose. I f you look at the efforts of the Canadian hybridizers like Wright and Erskine, they stuck fairly close to the species that were common in there area. Some of Erskine’s roses were even just selections of R. acicularis. I am slowly collecting the roses I would like to use in this effort. I have several forms of Woodsii, Acicularis, and Blanda. Also I am trying to collect some of the Canadian roses to use like Waskasoo and Kinistino.

One other point I have is about disease resistance and Multiflora. I have two hybrid Multifloras that were bred by Griffith Buck to use as rootstock. Don mentioned these two in the pedigree post and they have some very fine attributes to add. There are several different forms and variations of Multiflora in its pedigree along with Blanda, Maximowicziana, and Helenae. I know Dr. Debener found his blackspot resistant gene RDR-1 in Multiflora and I am going to try and incorporate these plants into my breeding somehow just for the sake of knowing that. If anyone would like to read the paper written by Buck on these two hybrids I can send it to them.

Just my two cents for what its worth.


Cass, Pierre, Mike,

Very interesting points. This year I’ve started working with the local R. arkansana, which has, for me anyway, three really useful traits:

  • It’s tough as nails. My original stand of it was dug up, plowed over, had construction equipment stored on it, razed, leveled, new soil piled all over it… and it came up that spring and bloomed as if nothing had ever happened.

  • It has outstanding powdery mildew and drought resistance. You can completely ignore it and it will bloom its head off anyway.

Thirdly and most interestingly in my opinion,

  • It very often blooms on new wood.

This year I collected some extraordinarily large hips from the plant I (perhaps foolishly) planted in one of my garden beds, from where it is trying to take over the universe. The flowers are a pale pink with darker reverses and a few crimson spots on the midline. I’ve seen photos of other Arkansanas that are essentially white with masses of spots, and that’s got me wondering. These were open-pollinated hips, and grew alongside Fa’s Marbled Moss, Cardinal de Richelieu and Crested Moss (among other things), so… we’ll see.


Robert, I agree completely with the approach you suggest. Qualities you and I require in roses - - heat and sun resistance, rust and powdery mildew resistance, lots of foliage to shade the canes to the ground, growth that doesn’t require the stimulation of pruning to grow well - - probably aren’t desirable at all in climates with short seasons, cold winters and summer rain.

Interesting, Pierre, that you’ve found a Laevigata that mildews. I wonder if it is budded or just too wet. I have a cutting-grown own root plant that has been submitted to no summer water - - in a pot. And it still has no disease and won’t die. Once the days started getting shorter, it set new leaves. They never went through the mildew phase that is common for stressed plants. Of course I wasn’t suggesting Laevigata for breeding in France. Subtropical species are generally good here, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to offer hybridizers in Canada or, for that matter, much of Europe. Even here Its size is an obvious problem. I wonder if anyone has ever seen a dwarf selection of the species.


If strongly deciduous Rugosas with wonderfull foliage and strength are not bad at all in climates with short seasons, cold winters and summer rain. For us southerners they fail only at heat/drough resistance and dislike alcaline soils.

I am living at french Riviera that is cooler (and wetter) than where Roberts is but hotter than many parts of coastal California. Here most selective feature is BS resistance.

Europe is roughly parted in an oceanic zone and a continental one.

Years ago I saw an ample (several hundred) progeny from rugosa x laevigata and was said it is an easy cross. Alas the whole lot combined the poorest features from each species resulting in large ugly plants with ugly flowers plus complete sterility.

The deseased laevigata grows against a pillar not too close by a north facing building. Neither wet nor lacking air circulation. Probably not enough sun. More than probably a grafted plant of the usual ubiquitous clone.


Did you see the red arkansana on HMF? Here is a diversified sp with many most interesting features.

And “trying to take over the universe” is quite a picture. Why not with a little help from you.


I would like to read this article and even get some seeds from these Buck rootstocks.

I know little about these canadian breeders and species. Still looking for a fertile blanda.


If some extrem conditions are location specific, most locations differ more by amount and length of conditions that are common to many places. I.e. the last few monthes here were much more than usual rose friendly with a not too dry spring followed by a summer with cooler nights.

This said responsible gardening/breeding concepts are an absolute necessity. Be it only for efficence at facing future’s challenges. Difficulty is foreseeing the to be successful strategy.


You make some very good points. There are so many varieties within a species. I guess the key is finding a good one.


I am glad to hear you are using R. Arkansana. I think it holds a lot of promise for drought tolerance. There are some plants of it growing on an extremely dry, sunny slope near my mother’s home in Colorado. The only other plants that survive on this slope are small yucca and some grasses. I am always amazed that a rose can live in such a harsh location.

Evergreen subtropical species are interesting for temperate climates also. They put a lot of energy in creating foliage that can stay on the plant for a long time. To do that the plant must invest in disease resistance. Many cold hardy species do not invest in such foliage. They only need their foliage to harden off their wood and to store energy to produce flowers the next year. So they don’t have to invest in resistance. They start dropping their foliage as soon as flowering is over, whether by nature or by fungal infection. Take R. glauca for example, it’s foliage turns yellow and drops like it is fall when it is still summer! (I know there are exceptions, and I don’ mean to say that every cold hardy species is like this).

I would be interested in trying hybrids of R. bracteata or R. laevigata with other (slighty) hardier species like R. sempervirens, R. wichurana and R. moschata. If it survives zone 7 with no leaf spots I’m happy :slight_smile:

Mostly, I have been disappointed with species resistance. R. viriginiana, R. carolina, all Caninae, and many other species I saw in the Wageningen Botanical Garden, they all suffer from leaf spots. Not blackspot, but anthracnose and/or cercespora. Only a few species have foliage that looks good for the entire season.


I consider late fall leaf problems as part of nature’s way os shutting down the plant for the winter.


You make some very good points.:wink:

There is a continuum for funghi virulence from perfect saprophytes that live on dead or dying fallen or not plant parts to virulent at an earlier stage. Virulence varies with temperature and rain/dew/dampness.

You are right about evergreen leaves having more desease resistance even if this resistance may be temperature related.

Evergreen is said by specialists of plant evolution to be primitive, deciduousness an acquired feature something like throwable leaves that allows easier/sneller growth in temperate or nordic climate.

Primitive is not a qualitative apreciation as evergreen sps had as much time to evolve than the deciduous ones.

A goal could be to bred roses with evergreen foliage when frost free and being deciduous with more frost. There a lot of i.e. mediterranean plants that have this hability.

Lens Surprises are bracteata x rugosa/hybrid rugosa and “other spot” on not so young foliage here.


The email links here are not working for me. Send Me an email at:


Of course substitute @ for the “at” in the address.

Both IT-9 and IT-18 are very small for me at this point. I just rooted them this summer so there are no seeds this year. Just another interesting note about both of these hybrids; they are both thornless. It will tell you all of this in the paper along with the parentage tree.

Here also is a link to Robert Erskine’s HMF page. He is my favorite of the older Canadian breeders.



Where in Colorado, approximately? I’m up against the mountains in near Lyons. You might like Rosa woodsii ultramontana, is grows up where there’s almost nothing but rock.


A red arkansana? I’ll have to go look at that!


This might need to be in another thread, but have those of you who do breed species roses to others ever notice any difference in the form of the seeds? I notice that both R.w.fendleri and R.w.ultramontana (and, to a lesser extent, R. arkansana) have very regularly shaped seeds; they look like little barley grains. I wonder if any other rose, when crossed with these, will have seeds that take on some of that shape.

Also, has anyone ever gotten R. glauca seeds to sprout? No luck here after three years of trying…

I have germinated several seedlings with R. glauca as the seed parent. I believe most of them took 2 years, and the ones that actually germinated were a very small percent of the seeds I collected.

Mike, do you know the code names of the Buck rootstocks?

I got a rootstock from Mr. Joe Winchel that I thought that he said was a Buck rootstock. Mr. Winchel called it “069”. I have been trying to locate its origin, since I used it to breed one of my rootstocks. It does seem quite clean and is nearly thornless.

Jim Sproul


Bracteata seeds are smooth simetrical elongated ovoid. Not angular from crowding in the hip as are most roses seeds. This feature is lost in most hybrids.


Got the article about Buck rootstocks. Quite impressive with seven generations and 13 crosses.

Rob wrote: “Mostly, I have been disappointed with species resistance. R. viriginiana, R. carolina, all Caninae, and many other species I saw in the Wageningen Botanical Garden, they all suffer from leaf spots. Not blackspot, but anthracnose and/or cercespora. Only a few species have foliage that looks good for the entire season.”

‘Other spots’ fall mostly to usually in the in between category. There is a competition at which will be first established and will exclude others among saprophytes and their strains. That is why if conditions are favorable desease strains able to settle earlier become predominent. Favorable conditions are dense groupings of individuals that are geneticaly identical (clones) or similar. Among the later consanguines are the worse.

Strong desease resistance is rare among roses if environment is not ideal. A rose garden is not ideal: few sps grow usually in dense groups most being scatered among other plants often quite far apart. For roses sps a rose garden environment is among the worst one can imagine.

Only wichuraiana is said to never spot. Its resistance diluting in a few crosses.

Crossing healthier sps learns a lot. F1 are rather uniform but F2 segregate widely health wise. Not better if an F1 is crossed with another F1 from different healthy sps. As if resistance may fail as soon as genomes (a full set of specific chromosomes) are broken.

This occurence is not uncommon as there are more than hints that i.e. scent or spination or recurence are not governed by single genes even with modifiers.

I have a (foliolosa x nitida) x banksiae hybrid that is fully recurent on ramifications when foliolosa is here only on groundshoots. Nitida and banksiae being strict oncebloomers. A nice little flower on a large quite airy gracious shrub with the expected narrow leaflets.


The roses I am talking about grow in Golden. There is an open space park called ‘Apex Park’ just outside of Heritage Square. If you ever get a chance, go there. You will see the roses everywhere and there is some great hiking and mountain biking.

I have seen R. Woodsii growing in the mountains. I have not used it because it seems to get a lot of fungal diseases by fall. Is R.w.ultramontana more resistant?


Many species roses do spot by the fall in my area, but I have never seen any blackspot, anthracnose or cercespora on R. Virginiana. If it was prone here, it would definitely get them (I am in PA). I guess this is a case in point that there are variations within species.



I’ve never had powdery mildew on either fendleri or ultramontana, and PM is a nightmare out here most years. Fortunately (knocking on wood!) I have not seen blackspot or rust in my garden. Yet.



I only see the two plants referred to as I.T.-9 and I.T.-18. I sent you the article so you could read it.


If I emphasize so much about breeding from species and close to species it is because species are 100% true breeding something modern roses are not at all.

100% true breeding for strength, relative desease resistance or scent among other features modern roses are very bad breeding.

Each and every sps are 100% reliable genetical sets that were tested and nature selected as successful at stability, fitness and performance for …millenaries.

Aren’t we a little arrogant when holding at “perfecting the wheel” with so much inefficiency.

Were are the strong, performing without TLC and scented vars we actual roses breeders and all our predecessors are/were after from the beginnings.

Should progresses on one feature be only at cost of losses on another one if we do not grow seedling by the million or meet unexpectable fortune.