Why keep parentage a secret?

Hi everyone,

Well, this might be a dumb question, but I have been wondering why some hybridizers keep the parentage of their roses a secret.
It seems to me that even if you knew the parents, your odds of getting the same result are far from guaranteed, plus if the rose is patented wouldn’t that afford a reasonable degree of protection against someone bringing a replica to the market anyway?
I am surprised to see on HMF that some hybridizers seem very open about stating the parentage of their roses, while others almost never do. Sometimes only one parent is listed. By the way, this isn’t meant as a criticism of those who choose to keep it a secret at all, I’m just curious about why.
Being a complete newbie in this field, I am probably missing a lot of information! Is it just down to the principle of “trade secret”?

I’m reading a book about a famous Belgian rose breeder (Louis Lens), recommended to me by Dane (thx mate :wink: ) and it gives some insight on the matter. Maybe now it is less important than 80 years ago, to keep the parents of your best roses a secret. Back then al the big ones were doing crosses with more or less the same roses (hybrid teas and china’s mostly). This is a passage about the father of Louis Lens just after the second world war, roughly translated with Google Translate :slight_smile:

“Victor Lens was able to continue his crossing work on a small scale during the war. The novelties, the mother plants and the pollen suppliers are carefully kept under lock and key in greenhouses and also in a cage delimited with strong barbed wire on the selection field. Only Victor has the key to the entrance door. All bushes are numbered. Victor has the logbook and he alone can read from the code which roses the novelties are descendants of. The breeding lines are carefully kept secret, because the competition is fierce.”

Its to do about money. Getting the best roses at the right time. The right coloring, the novelties, new colors, new remarkable plants with new traits. Back then, more than now I think, there was much money to be made. Patents and rights and such.

From my point of view a rose is of much more value if I know the offspring. Especially if it is an exciting cross. :slight_smile:

Below Old culture story based on facts might help see the old workings going on ….my most negative experience was once being implicitly asked by some nabob working for a nursery if l was the guy working for a nursery of ill repute when l inquired about importing under license some roses from an over the pond establishment.


By Walter LeMire

The Canadian Rose Grower

This is a story of a rose from yesterday that wore a mask of many names, return back to the times when ONLY roses registered with the American Rose Society were accepted in their competitions. The Great Outlaw was germinated more than forty years ago. Up to that time the most perfect stage of beauty was only seen either in manuals or for only a fleeting moment in real roses. This seedling held its high center in perfect symmetrical form long enough that an artists’ perception could be painted in three dimensional colour…still, it held…

The story of The Great Outlaw is true. Only my fond memories of the times and people from yesterday could or may change a few dates. For the most part, I’ll try and keep them straight. To tell the true story it’s necessary to include the times and the many people involved. Allow me to start with the man that helped make the legend possible Henry Webb came to Michigan from the Tennessee-Kentucky area, loved Beagle dogs so much that at times four or five met you at the gate. Henry worked at one of the leading rose nurseries, long before it was popular. H.W. grafted miniatures, producing plants of “STARINA” 30 inches high and at least half that wide. One thing H.W. could do was grow beautiful roses. His deep passion was exhibiting, even at work, he would dress a queen quality rose, it then was put on display in a clear refrigerated case in the middle of the room. Here, every person coming into the nursery would view the roses of the day. I refer to the man as H.W., my children referred to his visits by reporting “the man without shoe laces was here”. Henry was tall, raw-boned man, but, as I stated earlier, those big hands and fingers could graft with great precision. Another thing Henry could do was
talk roses.

On almost any weekend in the rose growing season H.W.’s yard would be populated by rosarians from hundreds of miles away. To put it another way, he was the motor that kept dreams alive in the Great Lakes district.

The year Penn-Jersey hosted the American Rose Society National Convention, Henry attended. Conard Pyle Nurseries was on the tour. When the group came to the new seedlings, Henry saw this great rose. I was not there, but the story goes, “a black car with a person using long glasses followed every step and movement that Henry made.” That night it rained very hard but Henry went back to the field without benefit of a flashlight and captured a stick of budwood.

The Great Outlaw was on its way to Michigan. Because the rose had so many petals, exhibitors saw a thing of beauty. However, the rose refused to drop its spent petals the general public saw a rose that ended up looking something less than beautiful. Conard Pyle elected not to introduce this rose.

Because of this decision, The Great Outlaw was born and an extraordinary amount of rose history would unfold.

The Great Outlaw appeared under name names; “PAPA MIELLAND”, “BIG BEN” and “BIG RED” just to name a few, and as each new rose became available, the name had to change. In the late ‘60’s two entrepreneurs from Ohio came to Michigan and crossed over to Canada gathering sticks of budwood as they went. In just a few years the original eyes had become many plants. Now, a new life was about to begin, the mask was coming off…or so we thought.

In 1971, Kern Rose Nursery hit the ground running with its registration of a dark red called “UNCLE JOE” (Mirandy x Charles Mallerin) x unnamed seedling. Shortly after, Melvin Wyants’ 1972 registration of a medium red rose called “TORO” (Karl Herist seedling x Big Red) very fragrant. Well, it’s a good thing no one tried to make an identification based on the supposed fragrance or “TORO” would still be looking for its first ribbon.

For many years the debate of perceived differences of the roses rang loud in some camps, while just as loudly other camps swore there were none. In 1974, The Great Outlaw was shown, not only as “TORO” and “UNCLE JOE”, but also as “BIG BEN”.

Yes, it made and English Box fit for any world competition, and it won. Thinking back to yesterday and remembering many conversations with rosarians from both camps, it’s a wonder my tongue is not shredded from all the times I had to bite it.”

I wish I could find the quote, but supposedly only twice in modern rose history have two roses been considered sufficiently “identical” to be deemed synonymous. Austin has done if for years as they considered the information “proprietary”, per Michael Marriott when he was at Austin Roses. There was a lot of conjecture many years (decades) ago that decision was encouraged by Austin’s “romantic propaganda” of his roses being modern hybrids of OGRs when so many of them were anything BUT. Disclosing the fact that Abraham Darby was actually the results of Aloha (1949 JP Climber) X Yellow Cushion (1966 Armstrong floribunda) definitely put a damper on his “OGR breeding” romance. Many simply have no idea. Very many don’t bother keeping the information or keeping track of it. I know a few who don’t disclose it due to potential patent issues. Disclose it too early and it can start the clock ticking on your ability to patent a potentially desirable result. Some literally still feel letting you know what created something they raised just might enable you to gain a leg up on them, as if using the same roses would yield the same results. Something similar, perhaps, but not identical. Personally, I agree with Karel. I am MUCH more intrigued with a rose if I know what’s behind it than not. I have ignored MANY which may have turned out to be decent because I couldn’t find out what made them. That can make HUGE differences in what to expect from a rose. There are too many roses which are trash in my climate and conditions and have long tended to generate offspring with similar failings and faults. Once I determine an offending ancestor is “in there”, that rose is rejected. I won’t touch The Fairy or anything bred from it because of its addiction to crown gall, which is an issue in my area. Drifts and Flower Carpets are all extremely susceptible to gall and literally die out from them after a few years in the ground. They are used extensively in my town and when I encounter an ailing one, it is very common to discover galls forming on the plants. If I don’t disclose a parentage, it’s because something took the tag. Otherwise, sharing what made something which impresses me is a huge part of the excitement.

Wow @KarelBVN, that is a great story about Victor Lens and his codebook! Amazing the lengths that he went to to keep the secret!
@rikuhelin1, Thank you so much for sharing the story of the great outlaw! Oh my, the black car and the long glasses, under cover of the night! It reads like a spy novel!
@roseseek, I didn’t want to point a finger at Austin, but he, and Ducher are the ones that spurred in my OP, because I was trying to figure out the parents of two roses I have. Thanks for the info about why Austin keeps the secret. I imagine Ducher must have similar motivations, so they can keep the OGR aura intact.
I guess there is a part of portraying some kind of mystique, like a magician not revealing how he produces a rabbit out of a tophat… Ta-daaa!
I agree with you and Karel that knowing parentage only makes a rose more interesting! Especially for roses that have been discontinued, I really wish they would disclose it since they aren’t benefiting from it anymore.

When Mitchie and I compiled and edited Rose Hybridizing “The Next Step”, back in 2003, I wrote an article titled, Some Thoughts on Keeping and Sharing Parentage Data. If you don’t have this booklet, it is available from the RHA on this website.

John Moe
Past General Director

I dont even bother trying to figure out Austins. I passed by some at a nursery this week, and one had kordesii-like foliage. I laughed and kept on walking. Honestly, my faith in Austin roses is that they’re like playing roulette. Ever since I had a Falstaff, I knew any Austin purchase was gambling.

I personally have a massive problem with USPTO roses patented claiming a known rose as a seedling to fool the examiner into an easier process. In most cases, as I have found, “seedling” is not “seedling”. Only about 1/3 of the cases was the seedling an actual non-commercial hybrid.

I can understand stating extremely complex crosses as seedling or seedling of X. At that point, it isnt so important unless there is something special to mention.

But, yeah, some companies are straight up lying.

I believe they feel they are protecting trade secrets, but in the nature of rose breeding, the decade gap makes that concept dead. I often see “seedling” more often when its a commercial variety of a neighboring European country. Either they dont want to admit using competitors roses, or they don’t want to start $h*t with each other. In either case, its silly.

The Toro/Big Ben thing is believable. Neither would grow or open in my climate. It was such a garbage rose for the PNW. Probably why I never saw the Portland Rose Society exhibit it.

Parentage often elevates the social value of a rose, especially if it sparks the growers interest. It can harm it, as well, but that would be such an uncommon scenario.

A lot of breeders are aware of HMF and refuse to use it to populate information. Its honestly annoying. I know this for many reasons, including patent applications that had to face USPTO’s appeal board. There is some juicy info hidden in those USPTO files… :]

Complete tangent, just curiosity, did/does that extend to Blue for You? Just wondering if the SCRIVbell descendants (given it’s said to have flower carpet in its lineage, but unsure to what extent) given they are most probably in the background of all the hulthemia hybrids (Warner’s) available here (Australia)

So far, Blue for You hasn’t demonstrated the addiction to gall. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible in the future, but so far, so good.

Kim, what kind of gall wasp would this be, causing those galls? We’ve got rose galls here in Belgium in the wild. They mainly target wild roses. I’ve got dog roses in my garden, along with modern roses, and only the dog roses catch galls from time to time and they aren’t all that damaging. The galls in your area must come from a kind of wasp that is more fond of tougher leaves I suspect? I’m interested not only roses :slight_smile:

I’ve also stumbled into roses because of some roses I got obsessed about on identifying. Twice actually. First a botanical rose, then I bought ‘Officinalis’ wich after more than a year of research appeared to be ‘Cuisse de Nymphe’. By then I was head over heels into roses. Also thanks to Austin. He was very inspiring to me. But as PacificJade mentioned, I was also a bit dissapointed in Austin’s roses, once I saw them “in person”. I also thought they looked very similar to modern Kordes roses, while - if you read his books - you would think the roses were somewhat super-portlands/HP/Bourbons (all the charm of OGR and all the resistance and flowering of modern roses). Only some I found resembled OGR, like Countryman, Mayflower and Mary Rose. But the idea of David Austin is a lovely idea. I can imagine he got somewhat discouraged when wanting to get more color into his roses, while most OGR have a rather narrow set of colors (white and pink to dark magenta). There is a lot of marketing and “story telling” going on, that is certain. A rose with a story is a lot more interesting. Very similar to art I guess. People want some history, some provenance.

I like the roses from “researchers” like Geschwind and Lambert. They were realy into trying completely new things in their time. While the others were fidling about with hybrid teas. You should really look into what Louis Lens did in his later years. He did some very interesting species crosses. If you are into that kind of thing.

Karel, I suspect Kim is referring to crown gall, which is a bacterial form of gall - no wasps necessary.

Thanks, Lee, yes, crown gall. We don’t have any gall causing wasps which prefer roses.

Ok, I don’t think we’ve got much trouble over here with that disease. I’ll keep my eye open for that one.

I noticed Geschwind was mentioned: the only rose I have of his so far is Gipsy Boy. I have been really impressed with it so far. It takes pollen really well, and so far germination has been pretty good, with some strong growing seedlings for their age.
I also have seedlings growing from its pollen which I used on a variety of seed parents.
No blooms yet, as they are all still young. Quite a high percentage are vigorous growers and I am interested to see them bloom.
I am also curious to see how they do for juvenile bloom and rebloom, as most of the crosses are with modern shrubs.
Speaking of parentage, I wish I know what the pollen parent was of Gispy Boy!

While I can kinda understand why a big commercial breeder might want to keep pedigree information proprietary, I ultimately think that hiding pedigree from view is petty, and degrades the ability of others to learn their way in this hobby. By the time a new hybrid is released into commerce, that plant is often 15 or 20 years old, so why the breeder should care if someone else wants to try to replicate the cross is beyond reason (and good luck getting the same results!)

If you learn something about breeding a genus, whether you are doing it on a big commercial scale, or just dabbling in your back yard for fun, SHARE WHAT YOU LEARN so that others can succeed. As Ralph often said, we all stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us, people who worked hard to make progress in what they sought to do. It is a selfish thing, to hide pedigree from others who want to learn.

I agree with Paul and Kim and others. It is sure nice to have honest pedigrees. With the black spot research we are doing studying specific genes that confer resistance to specific forms (aka races) of the fungus, it is nice to trace back that gene and see what the early source was bringing it into our modern roses. ‘Sunsprite’ has Rdr3 (Rosa disease resistance gene 3) and it’s been fun getting its ancestors and descendants to try to learn which roses also share its resistance to race 8 (and other races) and likely share that same unique gene. I got back only so far in the ancestry of ‘Sunsprite’ until there is a seedling that likely is the next ancestor, but nothing about what its parents are.

I am learning so much from this discussion, thank you all for your incredible insight!
David you bring up a very good point about the disease resistance. I hadn’t thought about that aspect but it’s obvious now that you mention it.
Paul I agree with everything you wrote here. If no parents had ever been disclosed, where would things be today? It’s only by knowing that we can hope to progress.
I have two roses in my garden that were bred by Michel Adam (Roberto Alagna and Pascal Sevran). I would get more but there’s zero information about any of his roses’ parentage and it’s really frustrating.
I’m also noticing that his roses don’t have any descendants listed either. It makes me wonder if his obfuscation of parentage has discouraged hybridizers from using his roses. Or maybe they’re all just sterile?

I can help you with this.

Peace derivative #896297 x Peace derivative #726829 … :]

He does list some, including the ones distributed by Weeks, but not very many.

Thanks for the laugh Pacificjade!!