Rose Cuttings – January, 2012

A yellow Banksia rose blooms on the grounds of the Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham. Photo courtesy of Mike Shoup.

Lady Banksia – More than Just Flowers

Very few roses can create the massive display that the Banks roses (Rosa banksiae) are known to achieve. A notable example is the Tombstone Rose; planted in 1855 in Tombstone, Ariz., it once covered approximately 8,000 square feet. (Some canes were over 100 feet long.) This feat alone earned it recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest in the world. Less notable, but more common, are established plants in mature gardens or on abandoned homesites that have been allowed to cover structures or naturalize into trees.

The white-flowered form was named in honor of the wife of gifted amateur Sir Joseph Banks. During the Napoleonic wars, he and Empress Josephine insisted that roses have free passage to France despite the blockades between countries. The botanist who named it, Robert Brown, commented on the flowers’ lovely fragrance, saying, “Indeed, I doubt whether many persons if blindfolded could by the odor distinguish them from violets.”

The Banksia roses can be used many ways in the garden. As untrained cascading mounds, they spread to 20 feet and reach heights of 12 feet. When covering tripods, they create “houses,” hollow-centered structures allowing children to play and hide under their bowers. (Note: these varieties are thornless.) Wildlife love the refuge offered by these giants. When in bloom, usually for three to five weeks in early spring, Banksia roses bear 1-inch flowers clustered in 6-inch sprays that cover the plant like a blanket.

Note from Neil: If it’s fragrance you’re after, note that it is the white Lady Banks rose that smells like violets. The more common, but equally beautiful, yellow Banksia rose has little fragrance.

About the author: Mike Shoup is the owner of the Antique Rose Emporium. Visit his company’s Brenham and San Antonio display gardens for endless ideas on landscaping with roses. To order roses online, visit

Posted by Neil Sperry
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