Shakespeare once wrote, “Of all flowers, methinks rose is best” and many people agree. As one of the universal symbols of love, the rose flower is given as a gift and people write stories and poems about it. Many a rose garden has been built in adoration of this lovely flower.
- History of Roses
- Botanical Identification
- Care and Maintenance
- Different Types and Varieties of Roses
- Species Roses
- Heirloom Roses
- Modern Roses
- Colors and Meaning
In various countries all over the world, rose is the most popular and important ornamental plant in the landscape and cut flower industries as well as in perfumery and medicine.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about all the types, names and varieties of roses.
History of Roses
According to its vibrant history, roses grew in the Northern Hemisphere but was first cultivated in China about 5000 years ago. Even the Roman culture is rich with stories about roses where they were used as celebration confetti, garden flowers, and perfume for the elite (1).
In the 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, Josephine, gathered the period’s prestigious botanists and horticulturists to build an extensive collection of roses, which is still considered as one of the greatest rose gardens that exist.
This is the same period when the cultivated roses of China were introduced into Europe and became the ancestor of the modern roses known today (2).
The Rose family houses over a hundred species of the Rosa genus, the woody perennial flowering plants known for their colorful, fragrant blooms of great architectural dimensions. The distinct characteristics of the rose plant include symmetrical round flower head with soft and fragrant petals, oval serrated leaves and hard thorny stems (3).
With their striking appearance, roses have become a favorite of both hobbyists and breeders and more varieties of superior qualities have been developed. In fact, numerous organizations dedicated to the enhancement and promotion of rose plants are spread around the world, the Royal National Rose Society in England established in 1876 being the oldest.
Care and Maintenance
Caring for roses may be a bit tricky. Some rose species are adapted to certain environments they are native to, other roses cultivated have their own growth requirements but there are general cultural and maintenance practices that apply to all rose plants (3).
Garden roses prefer airy but sheltered conditions, not bounded by tree canopies as full sun is best for them but they need protection from strong winds as well.
A deep healthy loam soil with excellent drainage makes roses thrive and fertilizer application is key to keep them vigorous. Fertilizer for roses should be applied in spring while buds are growing to produce the best flowers and again when the first blooms start to fade (3).
Like many flowering plants, roses are not immune to pests and diseases such as the most common beetles, slugs and leaf spots. Systemic insecticides are readily available in the market but it’s always preferable to use organic means or remove them manually instead.
There is a proven practice of applying the concentrated essence of garlic to rose plants to prevent most pests and diseases, especially the leaf spot-causing fungus. Eradicating this disease can also produce flowers that are twice their normal size.
Pruning garden roses is necessary to keep the plant longer-lasting and maintained. Pruning must be done before bud break by removing dead, damaged and overgrown branches (4).
Viable branches removed because of overgrowth can be used as cuttings for propagation purposes too. Although to grow successful cuttings, planting material must be obtained from the stem above the first set of leaves of the plant.
In areas with an extremely cold climate, it is important to select rose plants with cold hardiness that are suited to your hardiness zone. During winter, a technique of mounding 12 inches of soil over the base of the rose plant after the ground has frozen protects the plant from winter damage (4).
For rose cut flowers to last longer, always remove any foliage or thorns that will be submerged in water and re-cut the stem at a 45-degree angle every two days after replacing the water. Putting the roses in a cool spot will guarantee the flowers lasting for 7-10 days.
See more: How to grow roses
Different Types and Varieties of Roses
Today, the vast range of roses has been classified into three main groups based on the American Rose Society’s taxonomic system: species roses, heirloom roses, and modern roses.
We could have these names of roses listed alphabetically, but grouping them into categories will help you know about them better. Here they are:
Species Roses are bush-type, some climbing, growing naturally in the wild that grows up to 6 meters in height. The flowers are simple with 5 petals, usually in pink, red or white and only bloom once a year (5).
There are over 200 species roses and their simple beauty and ease of maintenance are preferred by many gardeners. Although not as grand-looking as the other rose types, species roses still captivate people’s eyes and they are said to be used in medicine and culinary fields as well (6).
Species roses are the only type of roses that come true from seeds but and they can be propagated by division and cuttings too. They are also relatively pest and disease resistant. Some of the species roses still cultivated include:
Prickly Wild Rose
Rosa acicularis (Prickly rose) has small pink to dark red blossoms on a straight, climbing stem with straight thorns and elliptical to oval toothed leaves.
Rosa arkansana or ‘Prairie’ rose also has pink flowers in clusters on a rather straight stem. Thorns are densely prickled on lower stems and the oblong leaves are sharply toothed as well.
Rosa blanda or the smooth roses have pink fading to white flowers on straight, branching stems. Thorns only exist on the base of old stems and their leaves are oblong in shape.
Rosa canina or ‘Dog’ rose got the common name from the old belief that rose hips are offered as protection from mad dog bites. These shrub roses are so hardy that they are used as rootstock when grafting roses.
Rosa carolina’s (Carolina rose) flowers range from white to bright pink with yellow centers. Only a solitary flower occurs per stem. This shrub rose has straight rounded thorns and oblong to rounded leaflets and the plant can reach up to a meter in height. This is the most common species rose in the US.
Rosa glauca has hips bunched like grapes. This rose variety is mainly grown for its reddish-purple foliage and red cane. It has fragrant pink flowers with white centers.
Rosa multiflora has small leaves and white single flowers usually in sprays. Commonly grown as a fence, this plant is native to Japan and Korea and some areas in the US consider them invasive.
Rosa nitida or ‘Shining’ rose is grown for its glossy leaves that turn bright red, yellow and purple in autumn. This beautiful rose usually grows near swamps as a dense bush and the small pink flowers are sweetly scented with a mild fragrance.
Rosa rugosa originates from Asia and grows naturally in dunes. It has bright pink, red and white flowers with deeply-veined dark green leaves.
Rosa sericea or the ‘Silky’ rose has shark’s fin-like thorns and white flowers with only four petals. The plant is native to China and a variety is ornamentally grown for its large, bright red thorns.
Rosa setigera or ‘Climbing’ rose has pink flowers in tight clusters on a vine-like arching stem. Thorns are straight, mostly on the lower stems and leaves are ovate with pointed tips.
Heirloom Roses or “old garden roses” are the roses that existed before 1867. Their blossoms are big and fragrant and they are bred to have longer stems for they are perfect as cut flowers.
Further divided into two groups, there are heirloom roses (Gallica, Alba, Damask, Centifolia, Moss, and Ayrshire) that bloom once each growing season, usually in early summer and then repeat bloomer roses (Bourbon, China, Portland, Hybrid, Noisette, and Tea) (7).
White Rose of York
Albas or ‘white roses’ are the most elegant of the old roses which grow tall and upright, often climbing. Their fragrant flowers come in white and pink and they have grey-green leaves.
Ayrshire roses are climbing, sprawling roses of pliable growth said to have originated from Scotland. Their flowers are off-white and purplish-pink in color.
Bourbon roses are the first repeat bloomers. They are named after Ile de Bourbon in the Indian Ocean and they have a rather tall and leggy growth habit.
Centifolias’ blooms contain over a hundred petals, hence the name. Because of the full heavy flower head and lanky growth habit, support may be needed to keep them off the ground.
China roses were introduced from China to Europe, hence the name. They have smaller flowers in shades of pink and red and their fragrance has a sweet, fruity note. The plants are either dwarf shrubs or vigorous climbers. China roses were highly cultivated and bred with the European roses and are the source of today’s wide array of roses.
Damask roses (Rosa × damascena) are said to have been introduced to Europe in ancient times from the Middle East. They are best known for their fragrance used in making perfumes but they also have impressive blooms in the colors of white pink and red. They also have an arching growth and thorny stems.
Rosa gallicas are the oldest garden roses said to have been grown by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their blossoms are of varying colors and are intensely scented. Their leaves are dark green and the overall plant is compact due to its profuse growth by underground runners.
Hybrid perpetuals have large, scented flowers in pink, red, purple and white. The plant has an upright, arching growth and reaches about 2 meters in height.
Moss roses got their name from the moss-like growth on the flower’s sepals and calyx which when rub releases a smell of pine. Sometimes, this type of rose is confused with Portulaca grandiflora (ten o’clock), which is also commonly known as moss rose.
Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’
Noisette roses are the first roses that were bred in America and are considered important in breeding because of their rare yellow and orange colors. The flowers are usually produced in fragrant clusters and the plant is sprawling, grows tall and bushy.
Portland roses are pink, multi-petaled with light green foliage. The fragrant flowers are small with very short peduncle and they are a good choice for containers.
Tea roses are characterized by their tea-scented large blooms and the plant’s tendency to form a V-shaped shrub. They are recommended to be pruned lightly for abundant full bloom. The flowers are usually five-petaled in pastel colors or shades of red.
“La France” is the first hybrid tea rose introduced in 1867, a variety produced from Hybrid Perpetual and Tea Rose, so beautiful and successful that it started the new era of Modern Roses. Their flowers have a more expansive color palette and they can bloom repeatedly in a growing season (8).
Types of Modern Roses include:
Climbing roses need support for their long, sprawling growth habit. They are not vines but the canes or fruiting stems are pliable that they can be trained along with sturdy structures. Favorite varieties include Lady Banks, Blaze, and Dortmund.
Floribunda roses were the result of the cross between polyantha and hybrid tea roses and as the name suggests, they are abundant with flowers as they are continuous bloomers. The flowers come in large clusters and the plant is less than a meter tall. Varieties include Iceberg, Angel Face and Showbiz.
Grandiflora roses are usually grown as barrier plants in the landscape because of the usual two-meter height and large clusters of blooms, sometimes in a single form. A cross between the floribunda rose and hybrid teas, the grandiflora rose inherited the ‘grand’ traits of clustered blooms and tall plant growth. Selections include Queen Elizabeth, Tournament of Roses and Solitude.
Hybrid Tea Rose
Hybrid Tea roses are today’s most popular roses with the long blooming season. Their blooms have around 40 petals per stem with several side buds and come in all sorts of colors. They are excellent cut flowers as they produce long-lasting blossoms with long stems and strong fragrance. Mr. Lincoln, Peace and Double Delight are common varieties.
Miniature roses are small true roses with tiny flowers, stems, and leaves. They are mostly grown as novelty plants and they are perfect indoor plants to put some colors in the house.
Polyantha roses are vigorous, low-growing shrubs with small flowers in clusters. They are typically used for landscape massing and edging. The flowers are in sprays of pink, red, and white which are decorative and open flat. Common varieties are Margo Koster, China Doll, and The Fairy.
Tree roses, unlike the other roses that were produced by breeding, are actually grafted. They are usually propagated using three different superior rose plants that will provide strong roots for anchorage, long upright stem, and prolific striking flowers and foliage.
Colors and Meaning
Here are roses meaning and symbolism:
Black roses are the enigma of all roses. The continuous pursuit of the true black rose has led to the cultivation of new roses, just as mysteriously beautiful. This rose color bears both sad and beautiful meanings such as death, tragic love, rebirth, and pure devotion.
Blue roses are the elusive ones. Breeders have tried to achieve the striking, sought-after color but still fall short. It’s no wonder why the blue rose signifies the unattainable, the impossible. But it also means fighting all odds, giving hope that the true blue rose will soon be created.
Green roses may not have the distinct petals of common roses but they are as valuable, nonetheless. They are decorative and equally unique in the floriculture industry. Green roses are the symbol of renewal, harmony, good health, and prosperity.
Orange roses emanate energetic vibe. These flamboyant flowers are the reminder of summer and they definitely provide the color every landscape needs. An orange rose is a fitting symbol of desire, enthusiasm, and creativity.
Pink roses in bouquets are always a delight to the eye. With their graceful air, they are a favourite among debutantes and brides alike. The delicate pink rose flower symbolizes appreciation, happiness, sweetness, sympathy, and gentleness.
Purple roses are given as a symbol of love at first sight. This rose is a new lover’s way to express that they are enchanted by their partner’s beauty and behaviors. This rose color is also traditionally associated with royalty.
Red roses are the classic representation of timeless beauty and passionate love and when streaked with white mean unity. The most popular of roses, the red rose is richly entwined with myths and legends and is often used as a symbol throughout history.
White roses may be simple-looking but they are far from boring. They are also deeply associated with history and literature. The white rose is considered the universal symbol of purity, innocence, youthfulness, and sympathy.
Yellow roses, in the Victorian times, may mean jealousy but these roses are too warm and cheerful to be defined as such. More fitting connotations are friendship, a warm welcome, joy, and remembrance. With this more optimistic association, more yellow roses have been cultivated over time.
Up Next: All types of flower names
(1) Perry, L. “Roses and Their Fragrance.” University of Vermont Extension. 2005.
(2) “The History of Roses.” University of Illinois Extension. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/roses/history.cfm
(3) Barron, L. “Roses and How to Grow Them.” Apple Wood Books. 2008, P.264.
(4) Tenenbaum, F. “Taylor’s 50 Best Roses: Easy Plants for More Beautiful Gardens.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1999. P. 127.
(5) “Handbook of Selecting Roses.” American Rose Society. 2002. https://www.rose.org/single-post/2018/06/11/Rose-Classifications?page_id=7530.
(6) Boskabady, et al. 2011, “Pharmacological Effects of Rosa Damascena”, Iran J Basic Med Sci. link
(7) Thomas, S.T. “The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book.” Timber Press, Inc. 1994.
(8) “Types of Modern Roses.” University of California Cooperative Extension. https://ucanr.edu/sites/UC_Master_Gardeners/files/23466.pdf.