Modern Roses

Since the modem classification of roses began in 1867, hybridizers have created many new classes and varieties of modem roses, expanding the color palette to bright colors, blends, and bicolors, and introducing more and more continually blooming varieties. Although some old garden roses showed repeat bloom (such as the ‘Autumn Damask’, which blooms twice a season), it was not until the China and tea roses were brought to Europe from the Orient that rose growers knew continual repeat bloom. This capacity for summer-long blooming has been passed on to modem roses. Modem roses include (in approximate order of popularity) the hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, climber, miniature, polyantha, rambler, and shrub classes.

Hybrid Tea

The classic, high-centered beauty of the rose flower is epitomized by the hybrid tea, which eclipses all other classes in popularity. As with other modem roses, there are varieties in every color except true blue and black, for which roses lack the necessary pigment.

Many are fragrant, and almost all bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. Most hybrid teas are produced one to a stem, although some bloom in sprays. Most are double or semidouble, with the single, five-petaled ‘Dainty Bess’ a notable exception. With their large, splendid, long-lasting blooms and often long, strong stems, hybrid teas are excellent for cutting. Indeed, they are the mainstay of the cut-flower trade.

A cross between the hybrid perpetual and the tea rose, the hybrid tea surpasses both its parents in hardiness and repeat blooming, a decisive breakthrough that marked the beginning of modem roses.

The first hybrid tea, ‘La France’, was introduced in 1867. The first yellow hybrid tea, ‘Soleil d’Or’, introduced in 1900, opened up a new world of color for hybridizers, since yellow was unknown in modem roses until that time. Six decades later, orange hybrid teas followed, and today an exceptionally wide color range is available.


As its name suggests, the floribunda has an abundance of flowers. It was crossed from a hybrid tea and a polyantha, and often has hybrid tea-type flowers, although not always. Some floribundas have single or semidouble flowers that are cup shaped or flat. Plants tend to be hardy and low growing, and produce flowers of varying size and color all summer in sprays. Floribundas are excellent plants for landscaping. Their low, bushy form makes them especially suitable for hedges, edgings, or mass plantings.


The grandiflora class began with the rose ‘Queen Elizabeth’, and grand it is. A cross between a hybrid tea and a floribunda, the grandiflora inherits the best characteristics of both parents. The hybrid tea side of the cross contributes high-centered flowers and long cutting stems. The floribunda side provides hardiness, continual flowering, and clustered blooms. Grandifloras are generally the tallest of the modern roses (except for climbers). This makes them most useful at the back of a border or as a screen.


It is difficult to trace the exact background of today’s climbing roses. Many are derived from species and old garden roses that had long, arching canes M most important, the species rose R. wichuraiana. Some are descended from shrub roses, others from ramblers. The climbers of today are technically called large-flowered climbers, although in common practice they are referred to simply as climbers. Many are sports, or mutations, of bush roses; thus in books and catalogs you will see reference to climbing hybrid teas, climbing grandifloras, climbing floribundas, climbing miniatures, and others. One exception is ‘Climbing Summer Snow’; in this case, the original plant was a climber, which sported to produce the lower-growing ‘Summer Snow’, a floribunda. Curiously, climbers that are sports of bush roses often have larger flowers.

Climbers are not vines; unlike climbing plants such as clematis and ivy, they lack tendrils to help them cling to walls or trellises and must be tied to their supports. Their long canes are sometimes pliable enough to be trained horizontally along a fence, a practice that forces them to produce more of the lateral branches on which flowers appear. Stiffer-caned climbers are excellent roses to train upright on a pillar or trellis, and thus are sometimes called pillar roses. Most climbers produce flowers in clusters. Some bloom only once, in spring; others bloom on and off all summer.


Miniature roses are miniature in every sense of the word, with stems, leaves, and flowers all petite versions of those of full-sized plants. Miniature roses have become a special focus of hybridizers in the last few decades because their small size makes them easy to grow in any garden, indoors or out.

The miniature is descended from R. chinensis minima and reached Europe from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean in 1815. It was thought to be lost, but was rediscovered growing in Modern Roses Switzerland in the 1920s. Plants range in height from 3 inches to 2 feet or more, and have flowers that range from less than 1 inch across to several inches across, in a wide range of colors. Although many miniatures resemble tiny hybrid teas or floribundas, they are a class unto themselves.


The forerunners of floribundas, polyanthas are low-growing, compact, very hardy plants that flower continually. The origin of the class is clouded, but it is believed that the first polyantha descended from R. multiflora and R. chinensis in the late nineteenth century. The flowers grow in clusters and are small and decorative, opening flat. Foliage is fine and narrow Although many polyanthas have been eclipsed in popularity by floribundas, which have more attractive flowers and a wider color range, several are still popular and make excellent plants for hedges and edging. Polyantha flowers are white, pink, red, yellow, or orange.


Ramblers were one of the forerunners of today’s climbers, which have largely succeeded ramblers because of their more compact shape and larger flowers. Ramblers descended primarily from R. multiflora and R. wichuraiana. They are very large, rampant, hardy plants with pliable canes that generally bloom only once, in early summer. Although many varieties still survive in old cemeteries and around old cottage-style houses, most have disappeared from the marketplace.


Shrub roses are a class of hardy, easy-care plants that was created by the American Rose Society to encompass bushy roses that did not fit any other category. Some make good ground covers; others work well as hedges and screens. Some bloom only once a year; others bloom repeatedly, with single or double flowers in all colors.

The shrub class is divided into several major subclasses: hybrid moyesii, hybrid musks, hybrid rugosas, kordesii, and a catchall category whose members are known simply as shrubs.

Hybrid moyesii roses are tall, stiff plants with distinctively shaped and brightly colored red hips that follow the repeat bloom. Hybrid musks are partial descendants of R. moschata, the musk rose, and will tolerate less sun than other classes of rose. These hardy, disease-resistant, fairly tall plants bloom all season in large, heavily fragrant clusters; most have single flowers, although there are some with semidouble or double blooms.

Hybrid rugosas are disease-resistant, dense, low-growing plants with wrinkled foliage and are descendants of R. rugosa. They can have single or double flowers, and their hips are a valued source of vitamin C. Among roses, hybrid rugosas are the most tolerant of wind and sea spray, and are therefore excellent for beach plantings.

Kordesii roses are twentieth-century hybrids of R. kordesii, a new species that arose in 1952 when the German hybridizer Reimer Kordes crossed R. rugosa and R. wichuraiana. They are shrubs or low-growing climbers with glossy foliage and exceptional hardiness. They come in a variety of flower forms and colors.

English roses are a class developed by the English breeder David Austen, and are often called Austen roses after him. They are disease-resistant, usually fragrant shrubs with an old-fashioned look.

The remaining shrub roses, known simply as shrubs, are generally vigorous, hardy, and disease resistant. Some are tall upright plants excellent for hedges or inclusion in a mixed shrub border; others are low-growing, trailing plants useful as ground covers. Flowers can be single or double and of varying sizes and colors.

Tree Roses

Tree roses are not a product of interbreeding but rather a plant form produced mechanically by grafting. A tree rose is usually a composite of three separate rose plants M one providing sturdy roots, another supplying a long straight stem, and a third grafted to the top to produce flowers and foliage.