Rose Cuttings – October, 2007

Many old garden roses being sold today boast names coined by collectors commonly known as “rose rustlers.” This terms conjures up images of black-clad thieves pillaging unsuspecting plants where they’ve grown for years. Fortunately, it’s not quite that dramatic.

A better description of a “rose rustler” is someone who searches and rescues lost or forgotten plants so that they aren’t lost to commerce, or at least not allowed to disappear entirely.

Many old roses are found by headstones in cemeteries, where loved ones planted them in the honor of the deceased. They survive even after a hundred or more years of being planted. Old roses are also found adorning the long-ago-abandoned home sites. In older, usually less-affluent neighborhoods in many southern towns, friends and families still share cuttings of longtime favorite roses. Each of these places is fruitful hunting grounds for tough, time-tested roses. These old roses must not be lost. The fact that a rose is still alive after years of droughts, freezes, hail and wind makes these survivors truly remarkable. Lesser varieties have perished.

When a rustler encounters such a rose, care is given to the plant so that it can continue to live in the same location as it has for years. Old branches are pruned away and weeds are removed from its base to ensure its continued health. Only if the rose is vigorous and with proper permission are cuttings taken. In this way, if the rose does eventually dies, genetically identical plants would live on to ensure future generations of an already proven survivor.

Many roses found growing in these situations are of unknown origin. Original introduction dates and names of the roses are lost. The rustler gives the cutting names like ‘Martha Gonzales’ or “Highway 290 Pink Buttons” in an effort to document the initial find. These names describe either the location of the found rose or the person who generously shared the cutting. Only after using a reference library of old catalogues and books and with the aid of experienced rosarians can some of the original names of these roses be determined.

Regardless of names, these old roses are valuable additions to modern gardens where versatility, fragrance, color and history can be cherished, without being a maintenance burden to the gardener.

Here are some great “rustled rose” choices: Maggie, Odee Pink, Caldwell Pink, Puerto Rico, Lindee.

About the author: Mike Shoup is owner of The Antique Rose Emporium, a Texas nursery dedicated to the reintroduction of old garden roses.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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