What’s up with Rosa foetida?
I have long wondered how a species that is nearly sterile could survive in the wild. I once read that Rosa foetida bicolor has only about 5% viable pollen. Lutea and ‘Persian Yellow’ are apparently about the same. Perhaps the near-sterility is “environmental”, as in the cases cited by Nicholas (1927):
“Have the soil and original method of propagation a direct relation to the fertility or sterility of a plant? We have long noted here that grafted plants of R. Hugonis, for example, will profusely bear seeds, while plants grown from cuttings are very scant seed bearers, almost approaching sterility. Paul’s Scarlet Climber as an own root plant may be considered as sterile, but a grafted plant will bear both self- and hand-pollinated seeds. I have also noted that plants of the same variety in different parts of the nursery have a different seed bearing capacity, although both receive the same amount of sunshine. As an instance, R. bracteata and R. Altaica at one location are practically sterile, while a short distance away, but in a different soil, nearly every bloom, either hand- or self-pollinated, sets fruit.”
Maybe it’s a matter of climate. Floral induction (conversion of vegetative buds to floral buds) may be triggered by different conditions in related species. And floral induction may precede flowering by months. In the strawberry, Fragaria vesca, floral induction occurs during the short days of autumn, but both the floral and vegetative buds remain dormant until the following spring. A long autumn (late first frost) means more flowers will open the following spring. An early frost, on the other hand, means fewer flowers.
When does floral induction occur in Rosa foetida?
Floral induction often occurs while plants are dormant. Not always, of course, as Fragaria vesca shows. But it may. Rosa foetida seems to be adapted to a short growing season in region where summers are fierce. It emerges early from dormancy, flowers, ripens its fruit (presumably) then sheds its leaves before the onset of scorching summer heat.
Nicolas: The Rose Manual p. 265 (1933)
“Summer defoliation is not always due to disease, although diseases will precipitate it. Summer defoliation did not bother our fathers before the introduction of Austrian Briar blood. Austrian Briars will lose their foliage early because it matures early. It is the nature of the beast that nothing can change, and all their hybrids inherit that character in a greater or lesser degree. When the foliage is mature, the â€˜cortexâ€™ or film of corky material that heals the pores where the leaf is attached to the branch begins to form, the leaf receives less and less nutrition from the plant and drops at the least provocation, spray or dust notwithstanding.”
Would Rosa foetida be more fertile if the plants were grown own-root and allowed to go dormant in summer rather than kept growing by alien root-stocks? I don’t know. But perhaps someone who grows the species, and who has a magnifying glass and an X-acto knife, would be so kind as to sacrifice some axial buds to determine just when the vegetative buds are transformed into flower buds.
If floral induction in the species does occur in summer, this may help explain why some of its F1 hybrids (e.g. ‘Soleil d’Or’) are able to rebloom, since it would only be necessary to override the summer dormancy.
There have been reports of the single yellow rose bearing viable seeds. Gerarde (1596) disagreed with the notion that the yellow rose was merely a wild rose that had been grafted onto a broom plant. He commented that, “the seeds of yellow Roses have brought forth yellow Roses, such as the flours was from whence they were taken”. D. Don, in The British Flower Garden (1835) wrote of ‘Williams’s Double Yellow’:
“This interesting variety was raised about ten years ago by Mr. John Williams of Pitmaston, near Worcester, from seeds obtained from the single yellow rose, which but very rarely matures its fruit in this country. Among the seedlings raised on that occasion three proved to be double, one of which is the subject before us, which from its flowering freely, and from the size, form, and colour of its blossoms is justly esteemed a most valuable addition to our collection of hardy roses.”
Rivers (1836) reported similarly, that the Single Yellow Austrian Rose, “in a state of nature, seldom if ever bears seed, yet, as I have proved, it will, if its flowers are fertilised.”
The native home of Rosa foetida has been discussed repeatedly since its introduction. Dr. Masters, in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (July 7, 1906), wrote:
“Not long since a correspondent enquired about a yellow-flowered Rose occurring in Syria, where the profusion and beauty of the flowers were very noteworthy, as noted also on the slopes of Lebanon by Sir John Llewelyn. From the description given, we conjectured that the plant was the Rosa lutea of Miller, of the Botanical Magazine (tab. 363), and of Lindley’s Monograph of Roses (1820, p. 84). This conjecture was verified by the inspection of Syrian specimens obtained subsequently by Mr. Arthur Sutton. This plant was called by Linnaeus Rosa Eglanteria, a name adopted in the Index Kewensis, which is unfortunate for many reasons, which we need not discuss here. When the Syrian flowers just mentioned were subsequently submitted to Col. Prain, the Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew, he at once recognised them as those of an Indian Roseâ€”R. Eglanteria of Linnaeus, which is, as we have said, synonymous with R. lutea of Miller. It is described in Sir Joseph Hooker’s Flora of British India (II., 1897, p. 360), and stated to be a native of the drier parts of the Himilayas from Kistwar westward, and in Western Tibet. Afghanistan, Asia Minor, and Siberia are also mentioned as countries wherein this Rose is found native.”
This was also reported in the J. Roy. Hort. Soc. (1907) and a follow-up report came the following year.:
“Yellow Rose from Palestine.â€”Mr. A. W. Sutton, V.M.H., read a letter from a correspondent concerning a yellow rose which grew near Baalbec, specimens of which he also showed. Dr. Masters recognised the rose as Rosa lutea, and Sir John Llewellyn said he had seen it growing so profusely on the northern slopes of Mount Lebanon as to make a mass of colour visible at the distance of a mile.”
The Gardeners’ Chronicle p. 408 (1908)
Rosa lutea.â€”In June, 1906, Mr. A. W. SUTTON, F.L.S., showed before the Committee dried specimens of a yellow Rose which had been named at Kew Rosa Eglanteria (= R. lutea) from Baalbec. Mr. SUTTON subsequently obtained through a lady missionary at Baalbec some pods and shoots of this Rose, but they were dead when they arrived. Later, however, he received other seeds, from which three plants had been reared, and which were now flowering in his garden. He exhibited a flower of a beautiful clear yellow colour, measuring 3 inches in diameter. A full account of the history of this plant, which Colonel PRAIN thought when he saw the dried specimens from Baalbec to be identical with the Indian Rose Eglanteria, is given in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, July, 1906.
The fragrance of the leaves of R. foetida is commonly overlooked. The precise fragrance has been disputed.
Herball p. 1086 (1597)
The yellow Rose hathe browne and prickly stalks or shootes, five or six cubites high, garnished with many leaves, like unto the Muske Rose, of an excellent sweet smell, and more pleasant than the leaves of the Eglantine.
Rhodologia: A discourse on roses, and the odour of rose (1844)
John Charles Sawer
The leaves of R. lutea, Dalech (R. Eglanteria, Lin.), (known also as R. Capucine) possess an odour which is even finer, recalling that of jasmin.
Euphytica 27: 205-210 (1978)
On the transmission of the yellow flower colour from Rosa foetida to recurrent flowering Hybrid Tea roses
D. P. De Vries and Lidwien A. M. Dubois
The F1 seedlings were relatively uniform as to vigour, showing a decidedly R. foetida habit. Thus leaves were composed of 7-11 leaflets (3-5 in HT) which had, like R. foetida, the typical smell of sour apples.
E. H. Wilson (1915) included R. foetida among the yellow roses native to “Asia Minor and Persia to central Asia,” then added that it was also to be found in the Crimea.
A species with such a wide range will surely have a variety of geographical “races” or localized populations that differ in various characteristics. Maybe a dwarf form is out there, or some that keep their leaves for a longer season. Are there other variations of the Bicolor type? At the very least, it would seem worth the trouble to import more forms of the species so breeders won’t be forced to continue exploiting the limited “gene pool” of the clone that has come down to us.