Narcea-an unknown, ancient cultivated rose variety from northern Spain


The present work reports the discovery and the complete characterisation of an ancient cultivated rose variety found growing in a private garden in the southwest of the Principality of Asturias (northern Spain). The variety is here given the name Narcea. The majority of roses currently cultivated belong to the so-called group of ‘Modern Roses’, all of which were obtained after 1867 via artificial crosses and improvement programmes. All are destined for ornamental use. Until the 19th century, the great majority of the many ancient cultivated roses in Europe were used in perfumery and cosmetics, or had medicinal uses. Rosa damascena and Rosa centifollia are still grown and used by the French and Bulgarian perfume industries. The Asturian Massif of the Cantabrian Mountain Range provides a natural habitat for some 75% of the wild members of the genus Rosa, but until now there was no evidence that this area was home to ancient cultivated roses. A complete botanical description is here provided for a discovered ancient rose. It is also characterised according to a series of sequence tagged microsatellite sites, and its agronomic features are reported. In addition, a histological description (optical and scanning electronic microscope studies) of the petals is offered, along with an analysis of the volatile compounds present in these organs as determined by solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy. The results reveal the uniqueness of this ancient type of rose and suggest it may be of interest to the perfume industry.

Maybe it’s also interesting for one or the other.


This is very interesting, Roseus. I read and understood as much as I could take in. I wonder what other treasures might be waiting for us in other mild, moist climates like that of northern Spain, growing there in plain sight for generations without any special care or cultivation. Thinking of the historic roses rescued from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California, I wonder what might be still existing in warmer parts of Central Europe like Albania, Croatia, Romania, and northern Turkey and Iran. Where did the Ottomans cultivate roses for scent or beauty?


That is fascinating Roseus!
So nice to rediscover old garden rose varieties. It’s especially interesting to see gallicas doing so well in areas where there is hardly any winter chill.
Looking at the minimum temperatures in Carballo, they seem very mild (8°c). I had already noticed another Gallica, “Villa Viçosa”, which was found growing in the gardens of the ducal palace of the same name in Portugal, where winter temperatures are also very mild (7°c). So there seems to be quite a lot of variation and adaptation to different climates within the gallica class.

I kind of wish a bit of historical research had accompanied the biological study. Since the rose was found growing in a private garden, perhaps tracking backwards through successive owners in centuries past just might have yielded some bonus context about how this rose came about. But I guess that wasn’t the scope of it.
Thank you for sharing this paper!


Many thanks for the nice feedback, minutifolia and SeasideRooftop!


Martínez et al. (2020) state: ‘‘Several specimens of this type of rosebush may have been growing in this same garden before 1867 (and possibly before 1832) (personal communications from local inhabitants)’’.

I think that some efforts have already been made in this regard. Such a property is often overgrown and abandoned and the previous residents have long since died. Therefore, most younger people settling in the area today can only provide very limited or incomplete information.

However, I’m happy and find it particularly interesting facing the concrete possibility that they may have discovered an unknown ancient, cultivated rose variety with potential for the perfume industry. If that actually works, it could be the first variety from Spain.That would be a step forward and a lucky coincidence for this country and the perfumers, since it seems rather difficult creating further convincing perfume roses.


This is probably a mere coincidence, but maybe worth mentioning just the same.
Le Grice (Rose Growing Complete, 1976) Chapter XVII - Perfume in Roses
“… it is believed that Theobault IV brought back from Damascus to Grasse a type of Rose de Provins with a reddish purple flower. There are two varieties, one with many thorns and one with few. The first is more suited to very dry areas without irrigation. It is more vigorous, with smaller flowers, although these are highly perfumed.”


Thank you very much for the valuable reference. I read the book a long time ago, but unfortunately I could not remember this passage. Thanks to your comment, I have just picked up the book again for refreshing. It is a great work by E.B. Le Grice.


This is so fascinating. Where might someone find a cutting? I would love to see how it survives here in Ireland

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My first thought on seeing this was that the bloom looks a great deal like a found rose from Puerto Rico being sold by Rose Petals Nursery under the name Cien Hojas. Given Puerto Rico’s history, I had wondered if that found rose was originally Spanish. The Puerto Rican rose is listed as repeat blooming, while it appears the Spanish variety being discussed here is once blooming. Cien Hojas | Shrub Roses | Rose Petals Nursery


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