Developing A Truly Canadian Rose

Canada has a reputation for breeding some of the finest quality and hardiest shrub roses ever developed. This is a result of the work done by the amateur pioneer prairie rose breeders like Dr. Frank Skinner and Percy Wright, and also the breeding programs at the Agriculture Canada Research Stations. Ironically, despite all the work done to breed hardy shrub roses in Canada there is still not a distinctive Canadian rose. The popular Canadian Explorer and Parkland series are respectively hardy types of Rosa kordesii and Floridunda types of roses, so they are not unique in appearance.

A distinctive type of rose is developed by using a species in a breeding program. For example, the Ayshire roses have Rosa arvensis in their parentage, the Boursaults have the combination of Rosa pendulina and Rosa chinensis, and Rosa kordesii is a amphidiploid developed from a Rosa rugosa x R. wichuriana hybrid. For developing a distinctive Canadian rose, I suggest that it should have a Canadian native species in the pedigree. This would add the characteristic of cold hardiness, which would be expected of a Canadian type of rose. Several native species have been used by Canadian breeders to develop hardy roses. For example, Frank Skinner combined Rosa rugosa with R. acicularis and R. woodsii, and Percy Wright hybridized Rosa rugosa with R. woodsii, R. nitida and R. arkansana. Although the roses they developed were very hardy, generally they were not that distinctive in appearance.

One shrub rose developed by Percy Wright had a very distinctive appearance and that was his ‘Musician’ (‘Hansa’ x ‘Hazeldean’). The flowers change colour from light yellow to pink and then to red, and when all three colours are displayed at once it is a stunning sight to see. ‘Musican’, while it is only once blooming, is one of the greatest rugosa hybrids ever developed. While it was developed 50 years ago, I think it is the prototype of a distinctive Canadian rose. Hybridizing the Rosa rugosa hybrids of R. acicularis, Rosa woodsii and R. nitida with Rosa spinosissima cultivars like ‘Hazeldean’, ‘Prairie Peace’ and ‘Suzanne’ is the way to go. The key is using Rosa spinosissima cultivars for maintaining hardiness, increasing fragrance and adding new colours. Fortunately there is a wealth of Rosa spinosissima cultivars to use, and the less hardy ones developed by Kordes should not even be ignored.

The Rosa rugosa native species hybrids crossed with Rosa spinosissima cultivars will be tall and thorny, so it won’t be a rose for everyone. But it is difficult to resist a rose that is very fragrant, and this is a characteristic that Rosa spinosissima is noted for. I think it is interesting that the relataively new Parkland cultivar ‘Prairie Sunrise’ has good fragrance of the Rosa spinosissima altaica type that is in its pedigree.

Its interesting to realize that Frank Skinner developed several several good Rosa rugosa native species hybrids and also Rosa spinosissima cultivars, including ‘Suzanne’ that has been so valuable to develop hardy roses. But it appears he didn’t realize the value of combining these two lines of breeding. Otherwise, we might have had a truly Canadian rose long ago.


I’m not Canadian, but I agree that Rosa rugosa and Rosa spinosissima combine well.

The link below is a page from my new web home. The whole site isn’t quite ready for prime-time yet, but I thought this page was relevant to your topic. Anyway, the rugosa X spinosissima hybrid outgrows either of its parents, and is fragrant. It doesn’t rebloom and has shown some tendency to mildew. Unfortunately for hybridizers, it is very sterile. I think, some very nice roses could come from crosses along this line, but instead using improved rugosa hybrids with improved spinosissima hybrids. Your idea of combining the two Skinner types would be ideal. Good luck to you and your fellow Canadians. Tom



Is the breeding of “Prairie Dawn” as noted in HMF accurate?

This is a rose that I bought simply because it was a shrub, but over the years have come to love and appreciate. It has withstood a plethora of inclement conditions, but continues unabated. It started setting plentiful hips only after the diploids around it matured. The breeding suggests that it should be a tetraploid, but it appears to act as a diploid with respect to hip set. Also the hips resemble rugosa hips. Any comments?


Yes, I believe that HMFR’s description of ‘Prairie Dawn’ is correct. Note that the breeder, William Godfrey, built much of it from "scratch’ and it is a great breeding accomplishment. This cultivar likely is a tetraploid and would be useful for breeding with Explorer, Parkland and Buck roses. For that matter, it would also have a lot of potential to breed with Hybrid Teas to make them hardier and someone should get on this right away. I always think of using ‘Prairie Dawn’ as a staminate parent, but as you note it will set hips. More experimentation is needed to see how fertile it is as a pistillate parent when doing controlled crosses. In this respect, ‘Prairie Youth’, its pistillate parent is better.

Suzanne Verrier classifies ‘Prairie Dawn’ as a rugosa but that is a stretch. It is a Rosa spinosissima type of rose and absolutely one of the best ever developed.

I have several open pollinated seedlings of Prairie Youth. So far I have not done any controlled crosses, but hope to this season as one of the two has now bloomed. It has a very full good sized pink bloom.

I just took a look at “Prairie Dawn” on HelpMeFind and that is a very interesting pedigree.

“Prairie Youth”, its seed parent, traces back twice to “Dr W. Van Fleet” (the rose “New Dawn” sported from) and has Rosa spinosissima altaica and suffulta as grandparents. It also traces back a little further to beggeriana and rugosa.

The unnamed pollen parent contributes another dose of “Dr W. Van Fleet” and Rosa spinosissima altaica.

The thought crosses my mind (once again) that spinosissima and wichuraiana might “nick” especially well. So far, I’ve been unsuccessful with direct crosses of these two species; but hybridizing a spinosissima hybrid with a wichuraiana hybrid could be the way to go.