originally published, Akron Rose Rambler, December, 1992
HULTHEMIA is defined by Modern Roses 8 as a “monotypic genus closely allied to Rosa and originally included in it by many writers. The one species is distinguished from Rosa by the simple leaves without stipules and small, solitary flowers with a dark eye. (Found wild) Persia to Afghanistan.” Modern Roses 8 continues, describing H. Persica as a “dense shrublet with long underground rhizomes; buttercup yellow flowers with a scarlet eye like a Cistus of about an inch in diameter with bluish green simple leaves and prickly fruit. Curious xerophyte of great botanic interest, exceedingly rare and difficult to cultivate. Propagation by seed only.”
The only garden hybrid to that date, H. Hardii, was called “a unique beauty, hard to maintain in cultivation. Best grown in an airy cold house and regularly sprayed against mildew, to which it is a martyr”. Jack Harkness and Alex Cocker had been working with H. Persica for over two decades and their adventures are chronicled in the 1977 American Rose Annual.
My fascination with this curious and difficult species began shortly after my interest in roses took root. H. Persica is not an easy plant to obtain, England’s David Austin being the only source listed in the 1992 Combined Rose List. When I was able to import from England in 1985 and 1986 the species wasn’t available, but Harkness had just released his first two hybrids of PERSICA and he was the only source. The catalog descriptions were incredible, and irresistible. The gauntlet had been thrown, and I jumped at the chance to grow these landmark hybrids. While the average bareroot rose ranged in price from 1.95 pounds to 3.95 pounds, the hybrid persicas sold for 15.00 pounds each. That was $22.50 each!
TIGRIS was sold out, but my plant of EUPHRATES arrived in excellent condition. But it sure didn’t look like a rose! It was definitely a budded plant, but the shape of the wood was all wrong. The wood was light yellow-green, very thin and twiggy with matched pairs of hooked, downward thrusting prickles. It reminded me of a gooseberry or some sort of strange little briar.
My thrill knew no bounds as the tiny buds began to swell on the spindly bush in its ten gallon can. It grew well and formed a dense, prickly, unrose-like little shrub. It didn’t however bloom until its second year. When they finally came, the flowers were an inch wide, consisting of five small, salmon to flesh pink petals, each carrying the expected dark maroon eyepatch at their base. I was excited!
Almost everyone else looked at me with the same bewilderment they exhibited each time I showed them my latest prize, as my garden was chock full of the lowest rated roses in ARS history. If it wasn’t a “universal favorite”, and particularly, if the consensus was that the variety should have been burned before it was released, I eagerly sought it out. My family thought it perverse; friends called it “weird”. With this in mind, you can imagine how the most exciting rose I had ever encountered was greeted upon its first flowering.
EUPHRATES continued to grow and sparingly produce its pretty little flowers until 1990. It was then I was able to finally have a place to put it in the ground. My garden had to find a new home, and there was room to spread!
I had not pruned EUPHRATES as I couldn’t figure out how. This isn’t similar to any rose I had grown before. I once had the idea to simply shape it as you would any other shrub, but finally decided we were both safer just letting it do its own thing. Since it flowered only on second year wood, and since it wasn’t very generous with its flowers, I cautiously left it alone.
March 1990 saw EUPHRATES in its own little plot of earth, and it appeared happy. I worried about how it would fare in the cold nights when winter arrived. It continued to appear happy, and I worried less and less. It flowered very well and began throwing very vigorous, vital, three foot long, straight canes. I checked to make sure they weren’t suckers - they weren’t. I worried again as EUPHRATES was acting as it had never acted for me before. Ralph Moore visited my garden at about that time and calmed my fears. He told me that I was experiencing the growth normally attained in the gardens in England, EUPHRATES birthplace, so I not only shouldn’t worry, but I should feel fortunate. His had never grown so well and he would like cuttings. My thrill was doubled! Each year’s flowering improves in size, quantity and quality. EUPHRATES isn’t the type of plant I would suggest to everyone. It also isn’t the martyr to mildew I had expected. I find a little powdery mildew on the flower stems when it is present in the garden, but the leaves and canes are always spotless. EUPHRATES won’t fit the pattern of the average “rose garden”, but it will fit right in with a border of perennials and other small shrubs. And it is quite beautiful and very unusual.EUPHRATES’ pollen parent is recorded as the polyantha FAIRY CHANGELING. The hybrid multiflora TRIER is listed as the pollen parent of TIGRIS. I was able to obtain TIGRIS from Mr. Moore this past spring. It is an own-root plant and still very small. Unfortunately, it seems a favorite with the ground squirrels and rabbits.
NIGEL HAWTHORNE AND THE FUTURE
Last year’s surprise was the arrival of NIGEL HAWTHORNE, a persica and rugosa cross named for the British actor (whom American viewers of cable television will recognize as the wily civil servant on Yes, Minister). There is a very nice picture of its blooms on page 78 of Sean McCann’s great book Miniature Roses: Their care and Cultivation. (The species is pictured on page 91). NIGEL HAWTHORNE’s small compound leaves show definite rugosa influence. The cuttings rooted well, and two of the three resulting plants were dispatched to hybridizers - Laurie Chaffin of Pixie Treasures and Mr. Moore.
These were natural choices due to their mutual association and the great work they are doing with rugosas. Mr. Moore has been perfecting his “Halo” roses for some years. Their trademark is a zone of color at the petal bases, differing from the rest of the petal color. Usually, the bases are yellow or white. Mr. Moore has been selectively hybridizing other base colors to produce the Persica effect, and his seedlings show great progress. EUPHRATES had proven sterile, the “Halos” needed the Persica influence, and Rugosas figure prominently in his current bloodlines, so Mr. Moore had to have NIGEL HAWTHORNE. My own cutting had wintered well on my exposed desert hillside. Then the rabbits decided to make a snack of it, and now there is a bare spot where it once grew. This makes the budded plant even more of a thrill.
I had received a grafted plant of the Persica species last year from friends in northern California. You aren’t supposed to be able to root, bud or graft it, but they were successful in getting it to graft to the old large flowered climber, SILVER MOON. It was a very unusual grafted plant, and unfortunately didn’t survive. I hope to be able to obtain a seedling of the species soon.
I have learned a few things about these strange rose relatives. Since the species is indigenous to arid lands - in fact, it’s called the most noxious weed in Iran - it prefers dry, sandy soil of low fertility. The budded plant accepts ordinary garden soils and mulch as its roots are canina. The own-root plants are easily killed if grown in highly organic, moisture-retentive soils as the roots rot quickly.
The cuttings can be very stubborn to root. Every once in a while, they will cooperate and the resulting plants will grow quite well, if you pay attention to their needs. I have also discovered that refrigerating the cuttings causes them to defoliate and refuse to root. In my experience, no refrigerated cuttings have succeeded thus far. I have experimented using EUPHRATES as it is available in sufficient quantities, and this result has remained constant. Uncooled cuttings retain their leaves far better and provide some takes. I haven’t had any problems with foliage damage or loss caused by spraying or foliar feeding with EUPHRATES or TIGRIS. I haven’t experimented with NIGEL HAWTHORNE as his father is a rugosa which resents spraying of any kind by defoliating.
Harkness reports in his 1977 Annual article that seed from his hybrids has been sparse. My own experience supports this as I had never found a hip on EUPHRATES until this year. There are now two little ones forming on the bush. We shall see if they contain seed and if they are viable.
These incredible little plants are quite interesting. The persicas can make attractive and unusual garden subjects for those who have a taste for something different. They will reward special attention to their special needs. I think you will enjoy the sense of accomplishment, experience and education from growing these rare rose cousins.
Mr. Moore presented me with a beautiful budded plant of NIGEL HAWTHORNE after this article first ran. It has been the star of the group with its large, showy flowers and excellent foliage. TIGRIS has surprisingly proved to be the breeder. Mr. Moore succeeded in raising thirty nine seedlings from crosses between it and his “Halo” roses. One, code named H94-2, has proven to be healthy, and a repeat bloomer. The petals demonstrate the large, bright, dark red center eye patch or “halo”, and may prove to be the break needed to bring Persica’s unique characteristics into modern roses.