Pernetianas – What Are They?
Around the turn of the last century, Joseph Pernet succeeded in mixing the genes of R. Foetida with those of Hybrid Teas. In order to have a common language to describe what resulted from this union, the term “Pernetiana” was coined, and those roses possessing the traits associated with it were included in this new class. The first successful rose of this “class” was Soleil d’Or.
As more breeding was done using Soleil d’Or and its offspring, new characteristics were popping up. Foliage, prickles, wood, bloom type, color and size as well as fragrances were appearing that no one had ever seen in modern roses.
Prior to this union, yellow existed as pale, washed out lemon or sulfur shades. Now, hard, brilliant chrome yellows, some washed and stained with true scarlet, orange, flame and shrimp pinks were possible. Red had always been of a bluish type, often aging to disagreeable purple tones. The new reds were of types devoid of any blue tints. While they did fade, and not always attractively, they did not turn blue. Other colors we now take for granted, but owe their existence to R. Foetida include copper; bronze; rich apricot; amber; vermilion and the other “neon” colors; true bicolors including scarlet with yellow and white; and eventually silvery mauves, browns and grays. Unfortunately, the brilliance of these new colors was usually fleeting in the earlier years, leading Dr. J.H. Nicholas to refer to them as “thirty minute roses.”
The softer, often matt green foliage associated with the Hybrid Perpetual and Teas was giving way to glossy, brighter yellow-green leaves. Prickles evolved into more hooked, slender, graceful weapons. The peduncles often bore small, red prickles, sometimes all the way to the base of the ovary. These were frequently equipped with scent glands, often carrying the fruity scents inherited from R. Foetida. Even new growth tips could yield these scents.
Fragrance, which had usually been of the Damask and Tea type, suddenly took on fruity tones, in many cases mimicking banana, citrus, apple, even berries. R. Foetida blossoms exude an oily scent, often likened to that of linseed oil. This even showed up in some of the new hybrids, while many simply did not release scent of any kind. Petal substance, usually softer and more easily damaged by weather and mechanical means in the older European-type and Asian flowers, now demonstrated more of a protective waxy coating. While allowing the individual bloom to be more durable, this substance also prevented the release of the oils and alcohols necessary to produce fragrance.
As the other characteristics were showing this influence, bark and canes also evolved. The younger limbs were often of a new shade of bright green, boasting reddish prickles. Too often, the pith was soft, resulting in poor performance in harsher climates and tended to make some of the varieties more difficult to propagate.
The Pernetianas definitely showed an affinity for warmer, sunnier and drier climates. Often, the plants would sulk, or even refuse to perform in colder, wetter northern areas. Higher heat and brighter light was necessary to produce the intense pigments these roses had been bred and selected to provide. Yellow, in particular, was very difficult, and often impossible to get to develop in cooler, duller weather. Many reports of the time complained of washed out, pale yellow to white flowers until the summer heat arrived.
Probably one of the most infamous traits these roses brought into the modern Hybrid Tea is their lessened resistance to black spot. The species itself is often given as the root of this evil. My own observation is that R. Foetida is not really more prone to black spot problems than many species. I believe it is more a problem of mismatched breeding. R. Foetida developed in a climate which required the rose to break dormancy, push its foliage to maturity quickly, bloom, set seed then wind down rapidly due to the short growing season. Teas, and therefore Hybrid Teas were evergreen, being bred from species from milder, longer season areas where the foliage needed to develop slowly, holding on the plant for much longer. The problem was created when the short season genes producing rapidly developing foliage, were mated with genes creating slowly maturing, evergreen foliage. Fungal diseases such as black spot and rust are senility ailments. Just as animals and humans develop illnesses in their old age, these two fungi attack older foliage as it matures past its prime. By giving the plant the mixed message of rush to produce, mature and use up your foliage, but, hold on to it for the remainder of the growing season, plants loaded with “senile” foliage resulted. Logically, resistance to these fungi appeared to be lessened.
It took many generations of breeding and seedling selection to overcome the shortcomings of the early Pernetianas. By the 1930s, the class had been pretty well absorbed into the Hybrid Tea class. Many, vastly improved varieties had been developed and introduced, a short thirty years after Soleil d’Or. By the introduction of Peace, these roses had hit their high point. Though Peace did not show any of the neon colors of the Pernetianas, it did blend their other characteristics into one, strong, dense, healthy (viewed in 1940s eyes, compared to other 1940s roses) plant.How can I see one?
Hundreds of these roses never made it long enough for us to enjoy them. Based upon some that did, that’s probably a good thing. However, we are fortunate to have some excellent Pernetianas still with us. While you may find it difficult to find one to study, you may see a current rose with many of these characteristics well displayed. Pat Austin, the coppery-orange English rose, is essentially a modern Pernetiana. The wood is bright green, fairly smooth and slender. Her foliage is bright, glossy, yellow-green. The peduncle carries the characteristic fine, sharp, red prickles, and there is some scent to them. However, her flowers are the dead give away. They’re coppery orange, and bicolor. Even the fragrance is from the Pernetiana songbook.