Days of Lime and Roses

I found a couple of articles by J. Henry Bennet, M.D., who had raised a garden in an abandoned quarry on the Genoese Rivera. It is fascinating to learn of roses that will thrive in limestone soil with little vegetable mould and no manure at all. Reading British sources, I’ve become accustomed to thinking that manure in the soil, added as a top-dressing, or fed as "pot victuals’ (manure water) is essential rose growth – at least in the U.K. Bennet told a very different story.

The first article deals with roses, the second with roses and other plants.
“This year, on April 20, the only Roses in full luxuriant bloom in my garden are the Banksian, especially the single Banksian, Lamarque, Noisette, a vigorous climber; and Fortunei, yellow. They quite make amends, however, for the delay of other Roses. They are perfectly magnificent, covering large areas of wall and rock with myriads of flowers. As they are all growing, without the addition of manure of any kind, in a purely limestone soil formed by the break up of the surrounding rocks, with only a very small amount of vegetable mould; these special Roses must like a limestone soil, which the general run of Roses do not. Indeed, lime soil seems to destroy in the long run, most of the Roses planted in it; they dwindle and die unless the soil is constantly renewed and manured. Some years ago I planted 300 hybrid perpetuals from a large Rose nursery at Avignon, but scarcely any of them have survived. Maréchal Niel, Chromatella (Cloth of Gold), and even Gloire de Dijon, do infinitely best grafted on Banksias. The latter flourishing like Ivy, forms stems as thick as one’s leg, and runs along 50 feet or more. The Banksia Rose must evidently be a regular lime plant.”
Bennet was a great fan of ‘Gloire de Dijon’. “Really the originator of the Gloire de Dijon ought to be made a baronet and have a pension for life. I believe that it is the most vigorously constitutioned Rose growing. It seems to succeed everywhere in all climates, and apparently in all weathers. I have seen it flourishing everywhere out-of-doors from the North of England to the Mediterranean.”

Is this more than just the fact that Banksiae likes alkaline soil? The giant Banksia in Tombstone obviously flourishes on it, and limestone quarry soil is probably as alkaline as it gets, along with a good deep source of water. Here is SoCal most Banksias flourish also, as long as they are occasionally watered. Although few roses are quite as alkaline loving as the Banksias, most appreciate the addition of lots of organic material to move the soil to a more neutral state. Reading Bennet might have saved me a few “dwindle and die” efforts when I first planted on this cut/fill hill.

So we need to mix banksia and rugosa to counteract the rugosa’s allergy to alkaline soil, eh? Am I going to have to keep a banksiae in a pot and store it every winter and breed with it? Do you all think that a banksiae would bloom with only three feet of wood?

The Banksiaes are not the only lime-loving roses.

The Garden, pp. 204-205. June 22, 1907
Baron De Soutellinho, Entre Quintas, Oporto.
Rosa gigantea.—In your issue of February 23 last you published a short note of mine about Rosa gigantea. In response to my offer to send cuttings I received many applications, and I sent several hundred, but, warm weather ensuing, the plants started into strong growth and I had to cease sending. The plants flowered profusely, so I had a coloured sketch and a photograph taken; they are not life-size, the flowers here measuring 5 inches to 6 inches in diameter. In a stronger clay soil they reach 8 inches.

In his previous note he specified that R. gigantea did better on the red clay over limestone at Lisbon, than on the sandy loam over granite at Oporto.

I think that R. heliophila Greene (usually lumped with the dubious R. arkansana Porter) also favors limestone soil. I once saw several plants growing through crushed rock on the side of a railroad overpass. I doubt there was much vegetable matter under there (I didn’t dig in to see), yet the plants seemed healthy and happy. There were various shades from the usual pink to a deep red.

Are the Russian Rugosas as allergic to alkaline soil as the Japanese forms?

Thinking more about this subject, I remembered reading that Rosa gallica was found growing beneath a crumbling limestone cliff. Checking my notes, I found that Phillips & Rix made this discovery, but I don’t have their book at hand so I can’t say where they found the Gallicas.

Today I found this:

Interactive Agricultural Ecological Atlas of Russia and Neighboring Countries
Rosa gallica
Speices [sic] is a mesophyte; light-demanding and facultative calcephyte. It grows on forest edges and glades, steppe rubble slopes and limestone outcrops, more frequently among bushes. It is a typical plant of oak wood edges. Quite often develops rather extensive thickets.

Book of Roses (2004)
Alice Caron Lambert
In France, Rosa gallica can still be found growing wild in the Massif Central, the Loire Valley, the South-East, in the foothills of the Alps, and in limestone and infertile areas.

And yet more lime-loving roses:

Durable Old Garden Roses

In Yunnan and Sichuan, the highly-fractured landscape is home to the greatest concentration of species and forms of wild roses on the planet. From antiquity, comely forms of > Rosa chinensis > and > Rosa gigantea > were selected for propagation around homes and temples. Centuries of further selection and hybridization yielded more sumptuous blooms, in more colors, and borne on plants from dwarves to giants.

The first introductions to Europe of China Roses were ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ (1792) and ‘Parson’s Pink China’ (1793). These are still grown and admired in sunny climes where limestone forms the bedrock.

On of the great horticultural mysteries that perplexes gardeners in central Texas is the longevity of shrub roses in country cemeteries and around the decayed ruins of old homes, as opposed to the short and disease-ridden life of newly-purchased modern roses. A rose is a rose is a rose. Right? Unfortunately not.

The indestructible heirloom roses passed from generation to generation in San Antonio, Austin and the adjacent Hill Country are usually derived from species originating in the limestone hills of central China. They are propagated from cuttings and grown on their own roots.

Their sickly kin have invariably been propagated by grafting or budding onto a convenient rootstock. Convenient for the propagator, that is. The mass-produced grafted or budded roses from the West Coast or east Texas are given a rootstock that thrives in well-drained, sandy soils of acidic reaction. Inconveniently for us, our soils have poor internal drainage due to a high clay content and are alkaline in reaction.

About banksiae flowering when three feet high: quite possible, and better than gigantea. And growing in a pot you can delay flowering that is completed (or almost) before all other roses begin.

Rugosa x banksiae cross is very difficult and the seedling I got is sterile…

For some reason, some red soils (not clay) over limestone soil are surprisingly little chlorosis inducing for plants that dislike alkaline soil.
In these red soils over limestone that has deep cracks plants have to be strong and deep rooted to withstand seasonal droughs.
Banksiae roots are excellent: numerous strong and vertical.

Banksiae is appearing better and better for root stock under ‘traditional roses’ for California’s alkaline areas. It seems completely hardy enough for pretty much anywhere you can grow roses here.

Another very dark green rose on alkaline soil is sempervirens.

Pierre (Rugosa x banksiae cross is very difficult and the seedling I got is sterile…) . A (diploid) interspecific hybrid is normally sterile because there is only one of each kind of chromosome per cell. Thus at meiosis no bivalents are formed and any resulting gametes are usually inviable as they contain either too many or too few chromosomes. This is the reason I double the chromosomes on certain hybrids.


Pierre, Warren…

I was thinking of R. foliolosa x R. bansiae. Foliolosa seems very accepting of foreign pollen. And potentially amenable to producing thornless seedlings. If I really got a lot of seed I could try the chromosome doubling thing, which heretofore I have only tried on OP seedlings.

More lime tolerant roses

Rosa pimpinellifolia (Burnet Rose) is a species of rose native to western, central and southern Europe (north to Iceland and Norway) and northwest Africa. It is generally restricted to sand dunes or limestone pavements and typically has a coastal distribution when not on limestone.

Rosa pimpinellifolia makes wonderful displays in the grykes of limestone pavement; it scrambles over stable sand dunes, and is found also on chalk downland and grassy coastal cliffs.

The native Prairie Rose [Rosa arkansana suffulta] occurs occasionally in northern Illinois and scattered counties elsewhere within the state (see Distribution Map). Illinois lies near the western range limit of this species in North America. Habitats include upland prairies, hill prairies, limestone glades, roadside embankments, areas along railroads, pastures, abandoned fields, and fence rows. This small shrub tends to increase in response to light or moderate grazing from cattle and other mammalian herbivores. This shrub is also well-adapted to occasional wildfires, as it is able to regenerate from its deep root system.

Site conditions for Rosa acicularis in Minnesota have been described as moderate to poor and dry (Bakuzis and Hansen 1962). Reed (1976) reported that it grows on soils close to neutral pH in Wyoming. Many Ontario specimens at Gray Herbarium have useful habitat descriptions and mention a wide variety of substrates including: rocky shelves, river gravels, clay banks, sandy banks, wet sands, stony beach, gravelly soil in open woods, limestone woods edge, and calcareous till slopes. Specimens from Québec mention dry field, dry pasture, calcareous shore, and dolomite escarpment. As noted above, occurrences in northwestern Illinois are on limestone talus (Robertson, personal communication; Post 2000). New York occurrences are on calcareous rocky summits (Young, personal communication).

Rosa blanda
Habitat: Dry to moist, calcareous to circumneutral rocky shores, prairies, railroad grades, roadbanks, and old limestone quarries.

Numerous exotic tree and shrub species have been planted in the valley of Wombeyan Creek and weeds such as Conium maculatum, Cotoneaster glaucophylla, Pinus radiata, prunus persica, Pyracantha rogersiana, Rosa rubiginosa and Verbascum thapsus thrive on the calcareous soils.

And more:

David Squire - 1995 - ‎
… select lime-tolerant species such as Albas, Damasks and Hybrid Musks. There are many varieties within these groupings.

Hardy Roses for South Dakota p. 21 (1929)
Niels Ebbesen Hansen
“The Austrian briar has been known in gardens for between three hundred and four hundred years, and differs from the Scotch rose in having no bristles (as distinct from spines) on the stems. It does not appear to be a genuine native of any part of Europe, but occurs wild from Asia Minor eastwards through Persia to Afghanistan, also in the dry N. W. Himalaya and in Turkestan. It is essentially a sun-loving plant, inhabiting regions with a hot, often arid summer. It thrives, nevertheless, in many parts of S. England, but not in or near London. I believe it is a lime-loving rose, and in places where it is found not to succeed, would advise the addition of lime to the soil if it be not naturally present.”–W. J . Bean, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, Volume II, page 432.

I have the exact opposite! My acidic soil (5.5) on deep red basaltic clay/loam over basalt bedrock tends to lock nutrients up and roses like Chinas, Noisettes, Teas, etc, really hate it here. Unless they are potted in soil augmented with chicken manure to lift the pH they usually dwindle and die. There are exceptions. ‘Lamaque’ is a monster here and the Tea rose, ‘Mons. Tillier’, thrives here however, I have a feeling this is due to water overflow from our grey water ‘sweetening’ the soil in the case of ‘Mons. Tillier’. ‘Lamaque’ and ‘Reve d.Or’ is also growing next to the house where the roots can go underneath the concrete slab on which the house is built which is undoubtedly leaching lime into the soil. ‘Marie Van Houtte’ is the only one growing very well where I cannot account for some kind of alkaline influence though it is grafted onto multiflora. Things grafted on Dr Phooey invariably also fade. Multiflora does well here. Rugosa love it, too. I would like to see a list of acidic soil-loving roses.

I have no experience with acid soils, aside from a couple of failed attempts with carnivorous plants. From what I’ve been able to glean from various reports, tolerance of low pH is not a simple thing – tolerant plants may be tolerant in different ways. Aluminum and manganese poisoning are common problems, if those minerals are present.

As for roses, I’ve found two North American species that are reportedly tolerant, but the tolerance is not general – some accessions are more tolerant than others. The fact that one accession of Rosa woodsii was found on very acid soil tells us nothing about other populations that are growing in lime-rich soils. And I don’t know whether sphagnum bogs contain much Al or Mn. If not, the acid tolerance of R. nitida might not be helpful where those elements are present.

Rhodora, 20(233): 90-96 (May 1918)

In the calcareous area to the north and northwest, however, from the St. John valley in Maine to Gaspé and Anticosti, these species are practically unknown (with the exception of rare colonies of R. nitida in sphagnous bogs and local colonies of R. palustris in the Devonian sandstones about Gaspé Bay)

United States Department of Agriculture
Plant Materials Technical Note No. 97
February 2014
Acid and Heavy Metal Tolerant Plants for Restoring Plant Communities
in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin
Joe LeFebvre, Project Leader
Integration of Selected Native Plant Materials for Enhanced Restoration Activities in the UCFRB

General Description
Woods’ rose, Rosa woodsii (accession number 9081638), is a spreading to erect, long-lived shrub native to the central and western U.S. and Canada. Woods’ rose is a widely adapted species and grows in many habitat types. It is an understory plant in dry and moist forest communities, and also grows in sagebrush, juniper, mountain, plains and desert grasslands, prairie and alpine habitats. It primarily grows on upland sites, but can be found in wetlands, riparian areas, marshes, and along lakeshores. Woods’ rose is an excellent plant for re-vegetating disturbed sites because it produces rhizomes, regenerates quickly, and has excellent survivability. It can be used to rehabilitate mine spoils and road cuts, control soil erosion on hillsides, and stabilize eroded stream banks. NRCS−Montana−Technical Note−Plant Materials−MT-97 16
The original collection site, with a soil surface pH of 4.53, has an average annual precipitation of 10 to 14 inches, and an elevation of 5,168 feet. In the fall of 2000, Woods’ rose was planted at the Mill Creek Woody CEP approximately four miles southwest of Anaconda, Montana. It was selected for its superior adaptation to moderately acidic and heavy metal-laden soils.


Woodsii did not do well for me, however, it was very dry at the time and water stress may have also played a part in its demise. Rosa palustris, and roses containing palustris, are (so far) proving to be quite good. I also dabble in growing carnivorous plants (Drosera and Dionaea ), and know that regions that experience very high rainfall, or have very boggy conditions, often have acidic soils due to leaching of compounds such as tannic acid into the ground/water and the leaching of other compounds out of the soil. This leads to many nutrients being rendered inaccessible, or low in supply, which paved the way for the evolution of carnivorous tendencies. Years ago, when I learned that palustris was also called the swamp rose, I started to think three things. The first is that if it can grow in swampy conditions, where humidity is high and conditions are ripe for fungal diseases to thrive, then it is probably going to have an impressive array of resistance strategies that might prove useful to the rose breeder. The second thing was that if it grew in such humid conditions it may also do well in a more humid climate, such as along the east coast of Australia, particularly north of Sydney. And the last thing is that if it grows in swampy conditions it may be more tolerant of acidic soils. I also applied this thinking to clinophylla, however, it dislikes out cold weather in Tasmania, and fails to thrive (though I have collected enough pollen today to try and create hybrids with it).

Thomas Silvers has done some amazing work with palustris and years ago he sent me some OP palustris seeds and OP seeds from his beautiful bracteata x ( rugosa x palustris ) seedling (see: 'Rosa bracteata X' Rose). Bracteata, which is closely related to clinophylla, also failed here as it disliked our cold wet winters, but when combined with rugosa and palustris the resulting seedlings have been very good. They haven’t flowered for me yet but I’m anticipating flowers next season.The OP palustris seedling I kept also does very well and I am looking forward to using it in the coming years to test my ideas. Whilst bracteata didn’t become much more than a knee-high struggling plant for me, further north it is a monster, and the bracteata influence in the OP bracteata x (rugosa x palustris) seedling is quite prominent so I’m hoping that some very vigorous, healthy, seedlings suitable for hot humid conditions can be generated from this seedling in the future, with the added bonus of being able to thrive in more acidic soils.

Plants that are resistant to drought may resist in different ways. Some species send their roots deep, which is helpful in areas where moisture is present in the deep soil. Others form dense masses of fibrous roots that suck out more moisture from the not-so-deep soil.

I read (somewhere) about the rhizomes of R. blanda crawling along the surface of the soil, among the leaf litter. The rhizomes of R. heliophila go deeper into the soil. The question is: Do the rhizomes follow the moisture, or is the growth habit inherent?

I have never seen R. woodsii, and I have found no report on how deep the roots and rhizomes grow. However, I have found a report on The Roots of Plants by Ten Eyck (1905) that discusses and illustrates the differences among some agricultural plants.

The table on page 228 shows how much moisture remains in the soil, at various depths, at the end of the growing season for several crops. It also indicates the depth at which each crop derives most of its water.

It would be interesting to see a comparable study of various Rosa species and cultivars.

Root and rhizome structure differences are a great topic! It seems like the R. arkansana I’ve tried to dig have very very deep roots and rhizomes compared to other species. I have a hard time digging up enough of them when I’ve tried to have them survive well and had to nurse them along a bit to recover. It seems like R. blanda here, like you mentioned Karl, have more tissue closer to the surface to lift out.

So, the question becomes, would R. blanda go deeper in dry land, or just die? Or would R. arkansana (of whichever regional variant) send its rhizomes along the surface in Blanda-land?

Another important detail that is often overlooked, is the root tip. Fitch (1913) discussed the radical differences between potato and alfalfa root tips. I have no similar information on roses.

John E. Weaver (1884-1966), longtime professor at University of Nebraska did the most extensive work on prairie plant roots. Had 45 PhD and 50 MS students according to online bio. In his last (posthumous) book Prairie plants and their environment, published 1968, there are pictures (pp12-15) of roots of Rosa suffulta as he called it. They go down about 20 ft, no surface-tracking rhizomes or roots shown. Rather thick but spare with few branches. The pictures are of course composite drawings from multiple specimens. For some plants he dug 5-10, or more specimens, by hand with careful washing away of the soil from huge undisturbed monoliths. That is described in his early books on roots of prairie plants.

The pictures are based on work published in 1919 & 1920 in the Publications of the Carnegie Institution of Washington # 286 and 292. The former is entitled Ecological relations of roots (128 pp) while the latter is Root development in the grassland formation (151 pp). Soil type influences the branching and fibrousness of root systems as shown in Weaver’s work.

In my garden Dr Huey has a few coarse, deep roots (heavy clay). In a light compost it may have many more observable fibrous feeder roots near the surface where a pot is watered. Same holds for a lot of own-root roses, at least the ones I keep. I presume that Dr Huey, and a wild rose, have many fine roots that are not observed except with the deepest excavation, or very gentle removal of the heavy medium through which they grow. There is certainly not enough surface area on what is easily seen of those coarse roots to sustain transpiration of a hot windy day.

A more ambitious person the me could calculate the water flux needed to sustain the biomass accumulated by a plant in a season, using the relatively close relation of half a kg of water lost per gram dry wt accumulated. Noticing today that my Silver Moon froze back this winter, I suppose I could give it a shot, by weighing the trimmings if I prune it to the ground.

Seems to me someone did something like this down in TX.