Amy Corwin

Rose Classes ~ The Basics

Let's start by laying the groundwork of what types or classes of roses exist. 

 Note--there are a lot of arguments about which roses should be included in which classes and exactly how the different classes were created (hybridized).  I'll try to mark those areas which are most problematical.

 Roses are traditionally divided up into classes, or groups of rose varieties, with common characteristics.  Some classes are ancient while others are the result of mankind's hybridizing activities.  And as if figuring out all these classes is not enough, there is sort of a super-grouping done by many garden books, and particularly rampant during the Regency, when they grouped all rose classes together under the general headings of Summer or Autumn flowering.

Since my focus is mostly roses during the Regency, I'm going to organize this in a similar way.

 Summer Flowering

This classification is sort of an overall description of several types of roses and includes many of the classes, as defined below.  This grouping would have been used, and is still frequently used in Britain, as a catch-all that includes the classes of roses or individual species of roses that only bloom once, typically in the summer months (May/June/July).

 Some may ask, why grow summer-only blooming roses if they only bloom once?  But in truth, none of the remontant (reblooming) varieties can match the exuberant magnificence of one of these roses bushes in bloom.  In addition, most, if not all members of this class should not be sprayed--which means they are less work.  They are generally not affected by rose diseases such as blackspot or mildew, and almost all without exception are wonderfully fragrant.  The blossoms are also quite different than today's plastic-looking Hybrid Teas, so you may decide for yourself...

 Autumn Flowering

This curious classification doesn't necessarily mean what it says.  It is really used to describe repeat blooming classes and species of roses which may bloom not only in the spring/summer but also in the fall (and perhaps sporadically during the summer).  This grouping may have originated with the Autumn Damask rose which blooms in the summer and may occasionally produce a few blooms in the fall, thereby making it one of the first--if not the first--to repeat bloom.

 Rose Classes - These first classes are all generally considered to be Summer Flowering.

Also called French Roses and sometimes the Rose of Provins (not to be confused with the Provence Rose which is actually a Centifolia).  It is included in the Summer Blooming group since Gallica roses only bloom once a year, during the summer months.  This is an extremely ancient class of roses, which was certainly well known to the Romans and grown in many Medieval gardens.

This was probably the most popular rose class during the Regency period.

Characteristics include: 

Short, compact growth pattern with a habit of spreading to form dense thickets by way of suckers.  Often called crotch-rippers, which gives you a fairly good indication of their height.

Canes are rather thin and wiry, with numerous hair-like prickles of many sizes along the stems.

Foliage is almost leather-like.  It is generally a flat matte green with a rough texture.

Blooms are very fragrant and range from pale pink to a rich deep purple.  There is no true crimson, but the red blooms all tend to have a purplish undertone.

The roses are fragrant with the typical rose scent.

Extremely winter-hardy and do not need to be sprayed for disease.


Rosa gallica 'Officinalis' or 'The Apothecary's Rose' - Large semi-double red flowers. Retains fragrance after drying so is very popular for potpourri.

 Rosa gallica 'Versicolor' or 'Rosa Mundi' - The striped form of 'Officinalis', streaked white, pink, and red.

The origin of this class of roses is also lost in time, but there is speculation that they came to England and Europe in the hands of the Crusaders, who often brought back exotic goods.  Damasks are large roses that often attain heights greater than 6 feet.  The canes are generally graceful and arch out.  When in bloom, the canes will often be pulled down from the sheer number of roses along the length of them. 

Graceful, arching shrubs often 6 feet tall or more.

Foliage is generally rough-textured with a gray-green leaves that have a pale silvery reverse.  The leaf at the end of the branch (terminal leaflet) often is folded in half and held at a downward angle.

Canes have very large, sharp prickles.

Flowers range from white to a reddish pink.

Fragrance is intense and these are the roses most often grown for the rose perfume trade.

Damasks are very winter hardy and do not need to be sprayed for disease.

 Damasks can be sub-divided into Summer Damasks and Autumn Damasks.  The two groups are differentiated by their bloom cycles.  Summer Damasks only bloom once in the summer while Autumn Damasks bloom in the summer and again in the fall.


Rosa x damascena 'Triginitipetala' or 'Kazanlik' - lovely, loose double flowers in pink, grown in Turkey to produce Attar of Roses.

 Rosa x damascene 'Bifera', 'Quatre Saisons' or 'Autumn Damask', an occasionally remontant variety, thought to be the rose mentioned by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, growing in King Midas' gardens. Loosely double blossoms in pink.

 'Celsiana' - an extraordinarily gorgeous flower in pale pink fading to white with an intense perfume. The translucent petals are unbelievably sensual and beautiful.

This is another ancient class with no clear beginning.  Renaissance painters frequently portrayed Alba roses in their paintings and some experts claim some illuminated medieval manuscripts also contain examples, so we may assume they go back at least to medieval times.  Latin fanatics may know already that Alba means “white” and this is an apt title for roses that are predominately white.

 There is speculation that Alba roses are a cross between the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) and a Damask, but this is open to argument.

Tall, thorny shrubs, reaching to six feet on up.

Foliage is blue-gray and rather soft.

Flowers are white to pale-pink and are generally fragrant.

Alba roses are very cold-tolerant, should not be sprayed, and will tolerate some shade and drought.


Rosa x alba 'Semiplena' with pure white flowers nearly 3" across.

 'Cuisse de Nymphe' or 'Great Maiden's Blush' - beautiful double, pale pink flowers, flushed deeper pink in the middle. Wonderful rose scent.

This class MAY be a cross between Damask and Alba Roses in the end of the 16th century, in France or Holland.  They are the large, double, pale pink roses often seen in 17th century Dutch flower paintings.  Many of our ancestors would have known them, and called them “Cabbage Roses” because they are globular and packed with petals, not unlike a cabbage.  Most experts believe this is NOT the same as the hundred-petaled roses mentioned by Roman writers in the first century.

Medium-tall, perhaps 5 feet in height, rather lax bushes with numerous thorns.

Soft, pale green leaves.

Large, petal-packed flowers that are deeply globular.

Very fragrant.


Rosa x centifolia or 'Old Cabbage Rose' - a lush, double rose in rich pink with a wonderful rose fragrance.

 "Unique Blanche' or 'White Provence Unique' - a pure white double rose discovered at Needham in Suffolk in 1775.

The first Moss Roses appeared at mutations of Centifolia roses during the 17th century.  These special roses are unique in having a moss-like substance growing along the flower stem (known as the pedicel) and up onto the sepals (the sepals are green “leaves” which encase the bloom until they split open the reveal the flower).  This hair-like substance has a delicious scent of balsam and is generally quite sticky to the touch.  The hairs may be green or brown and vary between being very soft to being somewhat prickly.

 They are very similar to Centifolia Roses in appearance.

Medium-tall, perhaps 5 feet in height, rather lax bushes with numerous thorns.

Soft, pale green leaves.

Large, petal-packed flowers that are deeply globular.

Mossing in either green or brown along the pedicel and sepals.

Very fragrant.


Rosa x centifolia 'Muscosa,' 'Old Moss Rose,' or 'Common Moss' - the original mossy sport of Centifolia, recorded in late 17th century. Lovely double flowers in rich pink, with stems and sepals covered in green moss.

 'Shailer's White Moss,' ' White Bath,' or 'Centifolia Muscosa Alba' - The white sport of the Common Moss, appeared in 1788.

 And now we start getting into Autumn Flowering classes of roses.

One note:  with the introduction of yellow roses, we also got the disease black spot, so this was not entirely felicitous.  Reblooming roses are, unfortunately, very prone to this disease.

The first China Roses appeared in Europe towards the end of the 18th century.  These, along with the Tea Roses from China, are responsible for the reblooming roses we know today.  China roses are not as cold hardy as the other roses mentioned, but they are in constant bloom from spring through fall.

Small to medium (5 feet) tall shrubs with thin, twiggy canes.

Abundant small prickles.

Foliage is narrow, lance-shaped, and generally dark green.

Small flowers are generally produced in clusters, often held “above” the shrub in a very graceful, airy manner.

Colors range from white to pink to the first true scarlet--a color European roses did not possess until the China roses were introduced.

The fragrance is quite different from European roses.  It is generally peppery or spicy.

As flowers age, they darken in color, unlike the European roses which bleach as they age.


'Parson's Pink China,' 'Monthly Rose,' or 'Old Blush China' has loosely double mid-pink flowers, generally in clusters of 3-5.

 'Semperflorens' or 'Slater's Crimson China' introduced to Europe around 1792. The flowers are loosely double, deep red.  This is the parent of most of the early dark red roses.

Tea roses were introduced during the beginning of the 19th century.  They were obtained from the southern regions of China.  Like the previous China Roses, they rebloom, but they are also not very cold hardy, although they do extremely well in areas such as the South in the United States.

 Large (6’ and over) shrubs with thin, twiggy wood.  The canes are smooth and have a polished look, and are often red-bronze when they are new.

Large, hooked prickles run the length of the canes.

Foliage is shiny and deep green.  New growth is bronzed.

Flowers are large, often produced in clusters, on fragile stems.

Flower colors include:  white, pink, yellow and a few reds.  Often, colors are mixed or blended, and are generally in the pastel shades.

Flower colors often intensify as they age.

Bloom is continual.

Fragrance is fruity with a tea-like undertone--not the usual rose scent, at all.


 'Parks' Yellow Tea-scented China' - brought to England by John Parks in 1824. Numerous pale yellow, double flowers with an occasional pink flush.

 'Devoniensis' was introduced in 1838 and has pale pink, double flowers.

One of the first classes where the older European varieties were crossed with the repeat-blooming Asian roses.  The first Portland was discovered around 1800 and named after the second Duchess of Portland.  Unfortunately, there were never very many varieties hybridized during the 19th century--perhaps only a few dozen, all told.

Upright shrubs with thorny canes.

Foliage is matte green.

Blossoms are large with short stems.  The leaves are often so close to the blooms that they appear to “frame” them.

Flower colors include:  white, pink to deep crimson.

Fragrance is sweet and rosy.

Their bloom cycle repeats and they were among the first roses to be cold-hardy, repeat, and have true scarlet flowers.


'Portland Rose' has bright red, semi-double flowers with a lovely scent.

John Champney’s, a South Carolina rice planter, produced the first repeat-blooming hybrid by crossing a European rose (the “Musk Rose”) with an Asian (“Old Blush”).  Mr.. Champney shared his hybrid with Philippe Noisette, who sent the plant to his brother Louis at their family nursery in Paris.  Louis introduced it in his catalog and named it the Noisette Rose.  It first appeared in 1817.

 None of the Noisettes are very cold-hardy, but they all repeat strongly (bloom almost constantly).

Large shrubs.

Foliage is matte green.

Blossoms are small and produced in clusters of pale pink to white.

Noisette were later back-crossed to Tea roses to produce the tall climbing forms with very large clusters of flowers.

These later flower colors include:  white, pink to yellow.

Fragrance is spicy Tea Rose.


'Blush Noisette' has lovely clusters of pale pink flowers with a scent reminiscent of cloves.

These roses were named Bourbon because the first were discovered growing on the island in the Indian Ocean later name Reunion, but then called Isle de Bourbon.  They may be a crossing of the “Autumn Damask” rose with “Old Blush”, both of which grew there as hedgerows.

Large, open shrubs with large thorns and long canes.

Foliage is deep green.

Flower colors include:  white, pink to deep pink.

Fragrance is strong, old rose.

They are generally winter-hardy.


'Souvenir de la Malmaison' is a large flowered, double rose in pale pink.

 'Bourbon Queen,' or 'Reine des Iles Bourbon' has lovely double flowers in medium pink with paler edges.

 Hybrid Perpetual
It took nearly 40 years after the introduction of China and Tea roses to break the genetic barriers and produce the first winter-hardy and reblooming (remontant) roses.  The early French hybrids were called “hybrids remontants” and the English renamed them Hybrid Perpetuals.  By the 1840’s there were large numbers of Hybrid Perpetuals in catalogues and by the end of the century, there were over 4,000 introduced.

This was probably the most popular class of rose in the 19th century, after 1840.

Very large shrubs with thorny canes.

Flowers are generally carried at the tips of the canes.

Flower colors include:  white, pink to deep red, and purple.

Fragrance is sweet and rosy.

Their bloom cycle repeats with a heavy resurgence of bloom in the fall.

Cold hardy.


'General Jacqueminot,' or 'La Brillante' has large double flowers in deep red, with a good scent.

 Hybrid Tea
The first Hybrid Tea is generally considered to be ‘La France’, introduced in 1867 by Guillot in Lyons, France.  It may have been a cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea.  These roses were initially classed with the Hybrid Perpetuals but eventually became their own class.  This is the rose we are most familiar with today and is almost always the only class of rose available from your average florist.

 Please note that once you start with Hybrid Tea and some of the following classes of roses, it becomes more and more difficult to give an accurate description because there is so much variation between the cultivars.

Generally, upright shrubs with thorny canes.

Foliage is generally medium to dark green and slightly shiny.

Blossoms are large, classic Hybrid Tea form with long stems and a high, pointed center.  Generally only attractive in the half-open stage.  This is in direct contrast to the rest of the roses we have mentioned, which are most beautiful in all stages and most particularly at the fully opened stage.  (Okay, you’ve caught me--I am not a fan of this class...)

Flower colors include all colors except blue and black.

Fragrance varies wildly, but many have none..

Their bloom cycle repeats.


'La France' has double blooms in pink which are paler inside. It has a heavier scent than most Teas.

"Mrs Oakley Fisher' is a single rose (5 petals) with large coppery yellow flowers.

The Guillots of France introduced the first Polyantha in 1875, “Paquerette”.  It was produced from a remontant dwarf form of Rosa multifloria.  These were the first reblooming, low-growing rose that could be used as a flower bedding form of rose.  They were also cold-hardy.

Low growing shrubs with thin, twiggy canes.

Foliage is shiny, deep green.

Blossoms are small and form in large clusters.

Flower colors include:  white, pink to deep crimson.  (No yellow.)

Fragrance is generally non-existent.

Their bloom cycle repeats.


'Marie Pavie' has lovely double blooms in pale cream with a touch of pink.

The Rosa Rugosa species is native to northern China, Korea and Japan.  It grows along coastal areas and was introduced in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century.  They are winter-hardy, repeat bloom and fragrant.  They also spread easily via runners and will live quite happily in sandy soil.   

Medium shrubs with thorny canes that will quickly colonize an area via runners.

Foliage is crinkled, leathery green (Rugosus is Latin for wrinkled).

Flower colors include:  white, pink to deep crimson and yellow.

Rosy fragrance.

Their bloom cycle repeats reliably and they do not need to be deadheaded to get them to repeat.

Produce large hips (or heps) with high levels of vitamin ‘C’ and are excellent for jams, jellies and tea.


'Rugosa Rubra' has very large single (5 petal) flowers in rich deep crimson.

Ramblers are generally descended from Asian species such as Rosa multiflora and Rosa wichuraiana and other Synstylae roses (these are roses where the female reproductive organs--the styles--are fused into a single column in the center of the rose.)  These are very large and exuberant growers, but typically are Summer Flowering, only blooming once and generally have clusters of flowers in white or pink.  They will happily grow up and over a tree.  Many will climb 30 feet or more.


Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate' - there is a speciman at Kiftsgate Court, Gloucestershire that has climbed into a large beech tree 30'.  The 1" white flowers are born in heads nearly 18" across and in full bloom this is utterly spectacular.  As as if this wasn't enough, it has a lovely scent.

 Climbers have been produced either by sport (accidentally) or by deliberate breeding from almost every other class of rose mentioned.  They are generally less exuberant than Ramblers, and have the characteristics of the variety from which they were produced.  They may be remontant or not.  Roses may be considered climbers if they produce canes 8’ tall on up.

Modern rose hybridizers have been busy producing a large variety of roses which are not Hybrid Teas, but may be “lumped together” as Shrub Roses.  Rose grower extraordinaire, David Austin, has been growing roses for the last forty years with the goal of producing disease-resistant, remontant roses that LOOK like the gorgeous older forms.  He has been so successful, in fact, that many Rosarians recognize the English class of roses to contain his roses.

 Again, there is so much variety in the Shrubs and English classes, that it is nearly impossible to define them, except very broadly.

They are shrubs, ranging from 3’ to 8’ in height.

Flower colors include every color except black and blue.

Fragrance varies from none to lush rose.


There are over 200 “wild” roses world-wide.  All are indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere.  Again, there is so much variety in the Species that it is difficult to describe, although they generally have the single form of the flower, with five petals.  In order to produce more petals, the male organs (stamens) must be converted into petals, therefore if a Species were to produce double flowers, it would be at a reproductive disadvantage.  Double forms do arise occasionally, but unless a human takes a hand, they die off.


Rosa Glauca has lovely gray-purple foliage, with smallish single flowers (5-petals) in rich pink. Lightly fragrant.

That is a fairly good start as far as the rose classes are concerned.  I’m going to just take one more minute to go over blossom shapes.   

Some Rose Shapes...

 Single - A “flat” rose with 5 petals.

 Pompom - A small to medium sized rose with numerous petals that form a sort of pom-pom shape when fully opened.

 Tea Rose - the classic high-pointed florist’s rose (half-opened stage).

 Quartered - A medium to large rose with numerous petals that when open, form four distinct quadrants or quarters.

 Semi-Double - A rose with about 14 or so petals--it isn’t packed with petals, but it has at least twice the number of a Single-shaped rose.

 Double - A rose packed with petals.  Typically 30 or more.

 Full - The rose has more petals than a Semi-Double, but is more loosely formed than what is considered to be a Double.  Typically used for China roses, such as “Old Blush”.

 Reflexed - A rose packed with petals that as it opens, reflex back, opening up the flower.

 Cupped - A rose packed with petals that as it opens, it retains a cup-shape where the petals curl inward slightly.

 There are more descriptions, including Globular, Rosette, Informal, and Shallow-cupped, but we have to stop somewhere!




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Amy Corwin

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