Breeding Species by J. H. Nicolas

From the old ARS magazines, for which a post was recently made, I extracted this article, written by Dr. J. H. Nicolas. It appeared in the May-June, 1933 ARS magazine. I copied it from a PDF file and hope I have found all the character recognition errors which occurred. The “friend” who sent him the Nutkana hybrids was obviously Fr. Schoener. Imagine what progress may have been possible if he had modern, fertile miniatures nearly 80 years ago to use instead of the “fertile Hybrid Teas”. Very interesting! Kim

Hybridizing Species Roses


HYBRIDIZING species roses has for its object not the improvement of the species, but the improvement of our garden roses through the species. Very few species are worth retaining in their tout ensemble. Their plant-habit is not desirable; after their short bloom season, however interesting it may be, the shrubs are not handsome, the foliage generally being unsightly, especially among the hardy species. If everblooming, improved shrubs could be produced, these might be interesting and they may come in the trail of our hunt for improved garden or bedding roses. The main use of species is as a means to “fortify” (as wine-makers say) our weaker strains, mainly the Hybrid Teas, on which we have to fall back for elegance and beauty of bloom. To infuse enough of the species robustness and “arcticness,” while retaining the Hybrid Tea type, is the practical line of march, and a long trek it is!

As in anything else, we want to proceed methodically. The season opens with the wild species roses, and this interesting material must not be overlooked, as hybridization of species is the most fascinating pastime, and the possibilities are innumerable, insofar as “civilizing” and blending them into existing types of garden roses is concerned. Hugonis, Ecae; the various forms and hybrids of Rugosa, Moyesi, Xanthina, Altaica; the Austrian Briars, Persian and Harison’s Yellows and Austrian Copper; the American native roses, Acicularis, Blanda, Carolina, Lucida, Nutkana, etc.—all will be a riot of colors in May, and Setigera (the Prairie Rose) in late June and July.

One need not have a large collection of species, as they can be used as pollen parents and for such, a few blooms procured from public parks, arboretums, private collections, and other places where rose species are featured, can be used. This pollen is applied to proved seedbearing Hybrid Teas. Few, if any, Hybrid Teas are in bloom as early as the

species, and they will have to be pot plants brought to bloom either in a frame or under glass. Your friend, the florist, will let you put a few pots in his greenhouse until time to plant them outdoors. A small lean-to greenhouse on the south side of the house is not very expensive and would be a wonderful laboratory or “play-house” the year around. Then

pollen can be preserved for some time, at any rate until the first Hybrid Teas (or climbers, if these are considered) come to bloom. Pick the pollen blooms, placing them in a box in a dry place. Do not handle or shake them until time to use.

Hybridizing species is different from crossing horticultural varieties. The results are slower as it is more difficult to make a “dent” into the extremely dominant, refractory character of the species, and it will take long, patient efforts to “tame the shrew” and refine it to the point where it will graduate from a wilding to a finished garden rose. In the meantime, interesting “mongrels” and “chimeras” will show at the first generation, and some of the desirable hybrids will be sterile (like Agnes and Vanguard, the new yellow and orange Rugosa hybrids). For the first cross, the selection of the mate has no importance beyond being a good progenitor, as its part in the game is only to “crack” the species. When the time comes to breed the next or first generation of seedlings, one must be more particular, as the influence of the mate will be more forceful. In my work, I generally select the most prolific and continuous bloomer among the Hybrid Teas, regardless of color and fullness of bloom, my main object being to acquire remontance (blooming more than once). The second generation will show definite hybrid types, some being remontant, and on these remontant types I begin to “build” the bloom by careful selection of mates. If we want to retain much of the hardiness or some particular character of the species, its ratio to Hybrid Tea should not be less than one to three or four at the most, depending upon the natural hardiness of the species. Rugosa, for instance, would be considerably weakened and almost eliminated if the ratio goes below one to four.

As to the use of sexes in species hybridizing, I prefer to use the species as pollen parent. Species, probably because of disparity of chromosome numbers, often resent foreign pollen, and many bear seeds with their own pollen only, while their pollen is generally potent on any fertile Hybrid Tea. Then, the problem of germination is a vital one. While Hybrid Teas, as a rule, germinate readily, species seeds are slower, and some drag along a year or two, or even longer.

Mendel and his interpreters, Drs. Bateson and Hugo de Vries, are silent on the role of the sexes, probably because their experiments have been mainly with simple species for both parents, while in horticultural practice a species is generally crossed with a hybrid; but Dr. Blackburn believes that results should be the same whichever sex of a species is used when

crossed with a hybrid. However, my experiences of many years concur with Mallerin’s of France, Lambert’s of Germany, Dot’s of Spain, and other practitioners, that the species is more easily and quickly “cracked” when used as pollen parent; its imprint at the first generation is generally more subdued, or to be more correct, the percentage of the mother type, with, of course, a more or less pronounced species influence, will be much larger than the species type, and these mother types will save time in bringing the desired finished product. For instance, a cross of Hortulanus Budde x R. Moyesi gave me slightly modified Hybrid Tea types where Moyesi was only recognized by the weird red single blooms and smaller foliage, While one almost totally mother type revealed the pollen parent only by the queer bottle shape of Moyesi fruits. The reciprocal cross (R. Moyesi X Hortulanus Budde) produced plants almost as uncouth and crude as Moyesi. The same result was obtained with other species crosses, the only exception being a cross of Mrs. E. P. Thom X R. baltica pollen, which gave one seedling very dominantly Mrs. E. P. Thom, although with smaller foliage, but double, with bloom-color and remontance of Thom, one true intermediate but not remontant, and one almost identical to the species.

Crosses of species roses and Hybrid Teas sometimes give strange results not always compatible—to the layman’s eye —with the parents, but, apparently, they are to be expected when unrelated or distant types are cross-bred: A friend of mine sent me a hybrid reputed to be a cross of R. nutkana and Paul Neyron, a shrubby, vigorous plant but without apparent trace of Nutkana, although the bloom was single and pink. As it excited a great deal of skepticism as to its true origin, I planted a handful of selfed seeds, and in the lot came several more or less Nutkana types, and one almost pure Nutkana in all particulars, even with its root-stolons traveling long distances. This experience satisfied the doubting Thomases—

including myself. Another example of the unexpected: A seedling of Royal Red, a rather low-growing Hybrid Tea, with very large, double, fragrant, deep maroon bloom, and R. oxyodon, a medium sized shrub with thin wood and small foliage. This seedling is an extremely vigorous plant, sending heavy, “lumbering” canes 10 feet high; the foliage is, perhaps,

the largest Hybrid Tea foliage known; its red blooms, medium to large and semi-double, come in bunches like the pollen parent. Rosa kurdistana from Kurdistan mountains of northwestern Persia, is a small shrub, seldom over 3 feet high, with medium-sized foliage like R. canina to which group it belongs; pollenized with Miss C. E. van Rossem, a very low-growing Bengal hybrid, it gave a seedling of most gigantic proportion, with heavy canes a half inch in diameter, growing 8 to 10 feet high in a season, with very large foliage, blooming only once, but becoming a beautiful maze of medium-sized double, light pink blooms (Kurdestana is white; Miss C. E. van Rossem, red). Where do these extraordinary changes come from and why? I know the crosses went over as other seedlings of the same hips were true intermediates.

Not surprising. I just dug up the original R. canina I have had. It had canes 2+ inches in diameter. That species is a beast. I should have tried Rosa canina x Rosa banksia lutescens. Oh well, too late now.

I see this article has some pointers about R. moyesii.

Great article Kim! Thanks for posting it. I have some ‘Midnight Blue’ x R. moyesii received from Paul Barden and I wasn’t sure what to expect from them but having read the article I have a better understanding of what I might expect.

Neat! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Even if none of us were interested in species, reading such a successful, historic figure’s thoughts and experiences is always interesting and fun.

I have some ‘Midnight Blue’ x R. moyesii

Rob, please do let us know what becomes of these. I’ll be very interested in seeing photos.

"For the first cross, the selection of the mate has no importance beyond being a good progenitor, as its part in the game is only to “crack” the species. "

The wider the cross the more this is true. I think a better way to put it is “Be grateful if you get anything to stick”.

The fact is that the choice of modern partner is extremely important, though. For instance, there were other hybrids between modern roses and foetidas before Soleil d’Or but only she offered the winning combination of form, remontancy, pigmentation and fertility to become Pernet-Ducher’s foundation breeder.

The choice of modern partner is even more important when working with higher ploidy roses. Survey everything you have in the stable against the species but, when it comes down to brute force where you have to limit yourself a bit then go for the moderns expressing as much of your target trait(s) as possible.

My own strategy with moyesii is to start with triploid and tetraploid moderns having high gene counts and/or high levels of expression for dwarfing, epoxide carotenoids, pelargonidin-pathway anthocyanins, high petal counts, large petals, crisp petals (lots of parenchyma), disease resistance and vigor. Obviously, few roses fit this bill completely but the hope is to stack the deck as much as possible.

Because moyesii is (theoretically) octoploid, in order to balance wild-type chromosomes with modern chromosomes I am attempting to create octoploid derivitives of the modern partners.

Even with all of this deck-stacking, though, I’ll be happy with whatever I can get from the effort.


I will post results of what turns up from the Midnight Blue x R. Moyesii. Germination has just started and I’m hoping for a good percent of germination. I’ll be using select minis to work with any promising seedlings from MB x moyesii.

Very interesting article.

I am not sure if I agree with his reasoning for using species as pollen parents instead of seed parents. I would have to see some more research or I would have to see it work out that way for myself. I prefer using them as pollen parents because I think there is a greater chance of success getting a cross to take because you have hundreds of pollen grains in a small dab of pollen. So I will probably never know if he is right because I do very limited crosses with species and tend to go only one way.

Looking up his crosses on hmf it list Schoener Nutkana as a parent four times. 3 as a seed parent and once as a pollen parent. Too bad none of his other species crosses are listed on there. I was looking forward to seeing what he was working on. But he does have alot of plants that I reconize the name of. Not sure what most of them look like. I for one find the work of several early pioneers to be very interesting. The ones who breed outside the box. What is weird is most of the people I can think of are Canadian. Probably because their growing conditions forced them to think that way. But their are a handful of other people located around the world.

We certainly can thank Moore for bringing us the best links we have to bridge the gap between where we have been and where we want to go.

I always figured using species pollen on modern seed parents would probably make it a whole lot easier to figure out what might actually be a cross than the other way around. Of course, I could be wrong, but it’s seemed that way.

A lot of species shed pollen very early resulting in a lot of selfs, using the pollen stops this happening, but the big draw back is , you loose some material only using one gamete type

I have read through the article and it was very informatie especially fo someone like me who is very interested in hybridizing as well. I reckon that it would require more patience thn cross breeding but i hope that my efforts would be all worth it. Hopefully i would be abe to imporve my garden as well. thank you and looking frward to more informatived posts like yours!


I have read through the article and it was very informatie especially fo someone like me who is very interested in hybridizing as well. I reckon that it would require more patience thn cross breeding but i hope that my efforts would be all worth it. Hopefully i would be abe to imporve my garden as well. thank you and looking frward to more informatived posts like yours![/quote]

Lydins, you are new to our forum, Could you tell us something about where you are growing roses, and what sorts of roses you are most interested in developing?



This is a very interesting article, especially the part about using species as pollen parents rather than seed parents. When possible.

It is also worth noting that two of the earliest scientists to study hybrids, Gaertner and Wichura, found that in combining three species, more variations would be found when the first hybrid was used as pollen parent.

In other words, A x (B x C) should give more variable offspring than (B x C) x A.


Thanks Karl, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

The hardier species make ugly shrubs?! Since when? Harrumph, I say!

This year I bred R. woodsii ultramontana to everything. It has lovely leaves that turn red in the fall. Curiously enough, I’ve got big hips from each cross.

My experience with species is limited to sinowilsonii, wichurana, rugosa, setigera, and bracteata and so far I would have to say that it really depends on the species being used and carte blanche statements can’t really be applied.

With sinowilsonii, in the first year I played with it, more than 50 different pollens were put on it and it set seed with almost everything. I had more than 1000 seeds to play with but only one germinated and it didn’t even germinate the typical way because I performed an embryo extraction on it. Used as a pollen parent, the next season, it produced seed on ‘Wild Rover’ because I figured ‘Wild Rover’ produces seed with anything and I also thought it really didn’t matter what you chose as your seed parent because it was enough to just get seed. The seedlings were uniformly awful and had worse disease resistance than does ‘Wild Rover’ (which isn’t great either just quietly). I think, when using species as a pollen parent, the seed parent is extremely important for a few reasons. Disease resistance is the obvious primary reason. The reason I think disease resistance in the ‘Wild Rover’ x sinowilsonii seedlings was so ordinary was due to the ploidy mismatch; diploid species x tetraploid modern means the triploid (in most cases) seedlings have only one compliment of species DNA which often isn’t enough to overcome the disease issues the seed parent has. In the sinowilsonii x ‘Violette’ seedling I have the seedling is far cleaner because, I believe, ‘Violette’ is far cleaner to begin with and because the seedling is probably diploid and so the species compliment and influence is far greater (50:50). I’ve germinated open pollinated sinowilsonii seeds and found them no harder to germinate than most rose seeds.

With rugosa, I’ve only ever used it as a seed parent and the seeds germinate very easily. I’ve always used rugosa as a seed parent because it was mentioned on here a long time ago that rugosa (species) were relatively self-sterile. I would expect the closer you are to species level the more self-sterile they would be to encourage preferrential outcrossing to maximise variability in natural populations. My thinking was that whatever took was most likely a cross and I could live with the lower success rate and if it was a numbers game then rugosa produces loads more seed than most any modern rose and the seed germinates easily. I am, however, going to try its pollen on a few things this coming season to see how that goes too because a few people on here recommended I try it the other way around too. I did try it the other way this season with ‘Laura Ford’ x ‘Belle Poitevine’ but an animal ate the successful hip.

With wichurana I’ve only used it as a pollen parent straight onto tetraploid moderns and rugosa/foliolosa hybrids. I’ve only done it once and the seed is in the fridge now so can’t comment further than this. I had intended to use wichurana as a seed parent this season. If the thornless wich seedling from Kim continues to be thornless and healthy then I had intended to use it only as a seed parent to guranatee that it is at leasy half thornless wich.

Bracteata has, by far, been the biggest pain (both literally and figuratively), to use because it doesn’t even start flowering here till the end of autumn and then it continues to flower through winter. Clinophylla is the same. So I’m resorting to freezing pollen for use early in the season and can only see me ever using it as a pollen parent. There was a lone random flower produced in Summer this year so I grabbed that and pollinated ‘Immensee’ and ‘Softee’ with it . Both took and I have seed from both crosses in the fridge now. Both varieties make seed that germinate easily so I’m hoping there will be seedlings on the ground in a few weeks. The timing thing often means some species can only be used as pollen anyway without freezing.

The use of setigera will vary depending on the gender of your plant. Mine is a male plant so I can only use it as the pollen parent. I put that onto ‘Immensee’ as well and have lots of seed in the fridge now too. I like using ‘Immensee’ like this because it’s basically a species cross itself with the added advantage of repeating and mini (poly mini) being passed on to hopefully get that shrew under control quickly. It’s going to be difficult to get pigment saturation back into it, however.

I think the thing I like to do the most is to do species x species/near species crosses because if fertility isn’t broken down then the pollen behaves like most other hybrid pollen and Iget more bang for my buck.

I’m also thinking I want to play with the ploidies more to maximise the species effects. For example I want to try and find nutkana seeds because it is meant to be hexaploid. If there is even meiosis then it should make 3n pollen/ovules so when put with diploids that make n gametes I should get tetraploid hybrids that are 75% species to put with modern tets. ‘Heart of Gold’ is meant to be wichurana x moyesii (I thought moyesii was meant to be hexaploid with fargesii being a tet), which means it should be a tetraploid species cross which makes it very valuable with modern tets… if it works.

Which ever way it goes… it all takes time… but it’s so interesting!!!

Another approach to “breaking” a species is to use a specimen with a mutant defect, such as a white-flowered variety of a species that normally has colored flowers. Van Fleet (1916) wrote, “I have raised some very attractive yellow and coppery flowered crosses of Harrison with rugosa alba, but only disappointment has followed its use with other varieties.” Then there’s this:

American Rose Annual (1956) 41:123-125

New Approach to the breeding of hardy roses

Dr. F. L. Skinner, Dropmore, Manitoba

Rosa virginiana was one of the American rose species that I used many years ago with rather indifferent results; however in the spring of 1950 I had in bloom, in pots, plants of R. damascena Celsiana, R. d. rubrotincta and a double white form of R. alba as well as a plant of R. virginiana alba. The flowers of the latter were fertilized with the pollen of the three old roses and from the seed secured about twenty seedlings germinated in 1952. Two of these seedlings that flowered for the first time this year had double flowers, one had white flowers resembling R. alba while the other had clear pink flowers like Celsiana in form and only slightly smaller; the foliage of all these R. virginiana alba hybrids is clean looking and nice. Pollen from these hybrids was used this summer on some of the old roses with apparently satisfactory results.”


You wrote; “I like using ‘Immensee’ like this because it’s basically a species cross itself with the added advantage of repeating and mini (poly mini) being passed on to hopefully get that shrew under control quickly.”

May be I do not understand right but I desagree if you consider Immensee as having miniature gene.

Comparable vars that have the miniature gene are i.e. Nozomi, Petit Serpent or the newer Sonnenröschen/ Little Wonder (miniature, Kordes 2005).

I’m referring polyantha dwarfing (which I referred to as poly mini) whereby the polyantha reduces the overall size of all the parts. Not the mni gene as such. ‘The Fairy’ greatly reduces all plant parts with or without the mini gene.