Rosa virginiana crosses

Rosa virginiana is arguably the most beautiful of North American roses, yet has seldom been used in breeding programs. Because the Great Plains native roses were an excellent source of hardiness, they were all used in breeding programs by amateur breeders. It is safe to say that if Rosa virginiana was native to the prairies, it would also have been extensively used by breeders. In fact, Frank Skinner dabbled with it a bit. But if, for example, Percy Wright had easy access to it, here is how he might have used it and more or less in this order.

  1. Crossed Rosa virginiana with Rosa arkansana to obtain a tetraploid breeding line that combined attractive foliage with drought resistance and perhaps some repeat bloom.

  2. Rosa virginiana x ‘Betty Bland’ or ‘Betty Bland’ hybrids to produce nearly thornless, very hardy progeny. This hybrid would then be hybridized with Rosa virginiana x Rosa arkansana selections.

  3. ‘Hansa’ x Rosa virginiana to obtain new types of rugosa hybrids. The progeny would be triploids but perhaps some selections would have some fertility and could be used for further breeding.

  4. Rosa gallica grandiflora (‘Alika’) x Rosa virginiana to develop progeny with red flowers and glossy green foliage.

  5. Rosa virginiana crossed with tetraploid European/ Asian species like Rosa laxa and the ‘Ross Rambler’ selection of Rosa beggeriana to develop Climber and Pillar roses.

  6. Rosa virginiana x ‘Harison’s Yellow’ to develop bicolours with improved foliage quality.

While Rosa virginiana can be successfully combined with modern roses, I believe there is more potential to combine it with species and develop breeding lines for further breeding work. It’s too bad that Rosa virginiana is native to eastern North America, because with a relatively warm climate there wasn’t the need to use it and other species to develop better roses. However, its potential is now being recognized and we can expect some fine roses to be developed from this species.


I agree Paul! I’ve been using it for some time now as well as another rose breeding friend. Progress is slow of course because of the time it takes for first and second generation seedlings to come into bloom. I have a R. virginiana x R. laxa hybrid that I really love. There was some incongruity (hybrid breakdown) with this cross in that many seedlings were genetically weak and died. However, one did survive and has developed into a nice plant. It has blue-green narrow foliage and pink flowers like R. virginiana (the R. laxa selection used is white). I have two selections from this past year from crosses of this seedling with repeat blooming shrub rose seedlings that were healthy. Hopefully these 2001 seedlings will have enough size to them to produce a few blooms this spring for additional crosses and the potential for repeat bloom to segregate in crosses with repeat bloomers. I also have some other crosses with shrub roses and R. virginiana directly that have taken their time coming into bloom (1999 and 2000 seedlings). They have some canes about 4’ tall, so they should produce some blooms this spring.

I’ve tried hundreds of crosses onto my R. virginina selection in the past and the only crosses that were able to take as a female were it by R. laxa and the R. laxa hybrids Haidee and Suzanne. I only had success with it as a male in crosses with modern repeat blooming roses.


The only hybrid that has any virginiana genes is Basye’s Blueberry. It will be intresting to see what I will get this year.


I have one open pollinated double pink, but it does not have any vigour on its own roots. I have not tried budding it yet.

As many of you know, R. virginiana is my favorite species. It is hardy and black-spot resistant. It has good-sized flowers for a species, although in pink only (there is a white form that I don’t have). It also has shiny leaves and attractive fall color and numerous, very long-lasting hips. Finally, it has the most beautiful bush shape of any rose (in my opinion). This last applies to the purchased plants I have used so far, but probably less to randomly selected wild forms. On the negative side, it suckers like mad and is not recurrent.

I have mainly used R. virginiana pollen on modern roses, however. That is partly because such hybrids will carry recurrency recessively, shortening later breeding by one generation (I hope). R. virginiana actually is very fertile with modern females, and I have used hybrid teas, climbers, miniatures, and everything else. I hope that this means that the hybrids will also be fertile. I have at least 200 hybrid seedlings of this type, and more on the way, but they won’t bloom this year, presumably. They are definitely hybrids because, 1) they are not recurrent, and 2) many have R. virginiana-style prickles. Oddly, a small portion are thornless so far.

I have tried to make hybrids of R. virginiana with other species and near species, but few species are female fertile for wide crosses, and R. virginiana isn’t either. I used to think that I was doing something wrong, but I have read that many species (the North American species, R. cinnamomea relatives, and R. spinosissima relatives) do not generally accept pollen from any but their closest relatives. I do have several seedlings each of ‘Alika’ (a gallica, I suspect gallica x R. alba semi-plena) x R. virginiana, Alain Blanchard (spotted gallica) x R. virginiana, and Tuscany (old, dark gallica) x R. virginiana. My first seed of Cosimo Ridolfi (very double, classic gallica) x R. virginiana just germinated from last year’s crosses. David Zlesak also sent me a plant of R. virginiana x R. laxa that I plan to use. I do plan to try some more species crosses this year. I got a plant of R. arkansana to set seed with ‘Arthur Bell’ pollen (there are no seedlings so far, so this hybrid is unconfirmed). I will certainly try R. arkansana with R. virginiana pollen this summer.

I am always interested in trading seeds of local, native rose species with other people. I plant to collect a bunch this fall. Our tetraploid native is R. carolina, and I am probably going to try its pollen for the first time this year. R. virginiana and R. carolina can be hard to tell apart, despite the clear distinction that is sometimes made.

Thanks to all, expecially David and Roger for their contribtutions. I’m glad to know that Rosa virginiana is being used in breeding programs. It has great potential.

Last year I only used ‘James Mason’ as a staminate parent with Rosa virginiana. I noted that R. virginiana was somewhat reluctant to accept pollen from this cultivar, but I did get hips with possible viable seed. This year my priority is to hybridize both ways with Rosa arkansana, and I will also try ‘Suzanne’. I note that Erlanson successfully crossed Rosa virginiana with Rosa acicularis, using the latter as the staminate parent. Germination percentage of the seeds was quite low though - 12.5%.

I am quoting Dr. Frank Skinner in his book Horticultural Horizons on his experience with Rosa virginiana. “Rosa virginiana seemed to be promising as a parent, and I made many crosses with it only to get rather thin petalled flowers of little worth. One autumn, however, I was able to secure a plant of the white form from the Arnold Arboretum. It arrived too late to plant outdoors and was potted up and grown under glass together with some of the old roses that had come to me from Britain. These included Rosa damascena Celsia and a white Rosa gallica. When these old roses flowered under glass, reciprocal crosses were made between them and Rosa virginiana alba. The old roses did not produce seed (I have never been able to get seed on Rosa damascena Celsia) but Rosa virginiana did, and among the seedlings raised were a fully double white and a pink variety, very similar to Celsia but with flowers just a little smaller. These two are now under a more extended test, and as both are fertile they are being carried throught to the second generation.” Thinking of Basye’s and Skinner’s success with it, I’m wondering if the white form of Rosa virginiana is superior for breeding.

For what it is worth, I note that Dr. James Kemp, Dept. of Biology, University of Prince Edward Island is doing current research on floral development and pollination biology of Rosa setigera, Rosa carolina and Rosa virginiana. “The work primarily investigates the floral morphology, pollination efficiency and pollen-stigmatic interactions.” Dr. Kemp’s Ph.D dissertation was on the floral biology and pollination biology of Rosa setigera.

Enrique - correction. The Canadian rose breeder Joyce Fleming has developed two Rosa virginiana hybrids. ‘Jim Lounsbery’(‘Liverpool Echo’ x R. virginiana) and ‘Charlotte Marie’ (‘Marchenland’ x R. virginiana). I believe she is still working with Rosa virginiana. I’ve encouraged her to do so.

Hi, I’ve been asked to inform those interested in breeding with Virginiana hybrids that they might read the following:

Two selections or hybrids from R. virginiana are sold in Europe:

After Belle Epoque Rose Nursery catalog: virginiana Harvest Song and

virginiana Drummer Girl

I grow both since february. Quite species looking.

Thank you.

Pierre Rutten

Those interested in contacting Pierre about these can reach him at: Thank you, Robert

The clones of R. virginiana I use are from a variety of sources, but one of them is R. virginiana ‘Harvest Song.’ I have been growing it for 5 years or so. I agree that it most likely is either pure R. virginiana or perhaps a hybrid with R. carolina. It is slightly different from my other purchased clones. It has glands on the hips, unlike the other R. virginiana clones I grow. Additionally, it seems to be slightly dwarf (2.5 vs. 5+ feet) and less strongly suckering. It is one of the most pollen-fertile parents I have ever used, although not more so than a couple of other R. virginiana clones. I have hybrids with modern roses up to a couple of feet high, and no sign of juvenile bloom.