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Florist Roses, Part One

Do you ever wonder what the roses are in the bouquet you just got from the florist? Do you wish you could order your favorite cut rose by name? Are you planning an event and want to select just the right roses for the occasion? In the first part of a three-part series, we take a look at florist roses past and present, with the spotlight on the US. Next month, we'll check out what's happening in Europe.

Florist roses, are the cut flowers you buy in a flower shop, not the bushes that you plant in your garden. In the United States, there are over 27,000 retail florists, 23,000 supermarket floral departments, and almost 11,000 retail nurseries and garden supply stores. The number of florist varieties available today is almost 120 -- up from only a few dozen varieties back in the 1980s.

In the US alone, over a billion cut roses are sold each year. Only about 30 percent of these are actually grown in the States -- more and more cut roses are being grown in countries like Ecuador and Colombia in South America. Ronald M. Soldo is Chief Executive Officer of E.C. Geiger, Inc. Geiger has been a supplier to greenhouses and nurseries for over seventy years. According to Soldo, the number of cut roses grown in the United States has declined significantly from 800 acres to 350 acres of roses grown under glass each year. Many American greenhouse growers are no longer in business. Foreign imports have now taken over the market.

This is in part due to the "perfect" growing conditions in South America -- longer days and increased sunlight. Greenhouses are located at elevations of 8,000 feet or more above sea level which increases the power of the sunlight. Temperatures are optimal -- averaging about 70 degrees during the day and about 50 degrees at night. Roses are flown out on jumbo cargo jets and kept in refrigerators that are set to a little above freezing. By the time a cut rose from South America gets to your local florist, little more than 72 hours have passed from the time it was picked. (You can tell a South American rose by the thickness of its cane -- almost as thick as a pencil.)

What qualities make a good florist rose? Lots and lots of blooms, eye-catching color that will not fade or "blue", long vase life, strong stems, and fragrance. Good florist roses are few and far between, but when one comes along, it can be very profitable. Sean McCann writes, in The Rose: An Encyclopedia of North American Roses, Rosarians, and Rose Lore, "when a good rose arrives, the highest security is maintained to make sure no one propagates it illegally. Before plant patents came into the fore... dentist's drills were used to remove the eyes on the cut stems before they were shipped to retailers, thereby preventing propagation.

E. Gurney Hill was the father of greenhouse growing in the United States. He founded his Indiana nursery in 1881, selling European roses. Later, he began hybridizing with 'Ophelia', a light pink Hybrid Tea, and produced many florist roses. 'Ophelia' has been called The Queen Mother of Roses and has to her credit at least thirty-six sports. 'Ophelia' sported to 'Mme. Butterfly', which Hill also used in his breeding program, ultimately producing one of the top greenhouse roses, 'Columbia'. 'Ophelia' and 'Mme. Butterfly' are so similar that during the 1920s and 1930s, rose show exhibitors could not show them both because even the judges couldn't tell them apart. 'Columbia', on the other hand, is a deeper pink and has almost twice as many petals. All three are very fragrant.

'American Beauty' was the most popular florist rose in America during the 1920s and '30s. It fetched the highest price of any cut rose -- when it was introduced back in 1886, the price per stem started at two-dollars. For some growers, it was the only variety they grew. It had beautiful blooms, strong stems, good foliage and fragrance. Before it made its American debut, it had already been growing for a decade in France where it was known as 'Mme. Ferdinand Jamain' and was classed as a Hybrid Perpetual. The story goes that "Diamond" Jim Brady sent masses of bouquets of 'American Beauty' to Lillian Russel, a singer and actress who was known as the American Beauty. Today, a rose called 'American Beauty' is widely available to home growers, but McCann claims that it won't be the original 'American Beauty' rose. You'll only find the original in garden museums.

In 1937, Mathias Tantau began breeding with R. multibracteata, a rose that has small, dainty leaves and little pink flowers. Ten years later, in 1947, his son introduced one of the results of that program called 'Garnette', a deep red rose with hard petals that were virtually indestructible. 'Garnette' was another incredibly successful florist rose. Growers devoted entire greenhouses to it. And then 'Garnette' started sporting -- first, 'Pink Garnette', and then 'Carol Amling' -- both were deep pink. Soon nurseries were offering all sorts of Garnette Roses in a variety of colours, but not all of these were sports of the original. They are good florist roses, but Garnette Roses generally make poor garden plants.

The first rose to receive the equivalent of a patent in France was a florist rose introduced by Meilland in 1949. It was known as 'Rouge Meilland' in France and 'Happiness' in America. Its brilliant red blooms had great form and were long-lasting. Its popularity extended over two decades. The original cross that produced 'Rouge Meilland' took place in 1937 -- over ten years before Meilland could make any money from it. Since then, Meilland has assigned the name "Rouge Meilland" to a different rose.

Francis Meilland introduced the highly successful child of 'Happiness', 'Baccara', in 1954. This rose had long stems and bright red flowers that had a long vase life. Although not widely available to the home gardener, 'Baccara' is available from some nurseries. Its blossoms are deep red when grown outside and brighter red when grown in a greenhouse.

Alain Meilland estimated Meilland produces one really good florist rose every 3 or 4 years, compared to an average of four garden roses every year. In the twenty years after 'Baccara', Meilland introduced only four florist roses, 'Sonia', 'Visa', 'Bettina', and 'Candia', but all were successes. 'Sonia' is arguably the most popular greenhouse rose in the world. Its fragrant blooms are salmon-pink with a golden glow at the heart. Alain Meilland named this rose for his daughter.

Jack Harkness wrote, in The Makers of Heavenly Roses, "the Meilland organization has prospered under the direction of Alain and his mother, and is now a large, international business. To that prosperity, roses for the cut flower trade have been the main contributors, especially the rosy salmon 'Sonia Meilland', known as 'Sweet Promise' in Britain, and introduced in 1973. [Alain Meilland] established trial nurseries for cut roses in France and Holland, and production nurseries to supply the plants which glasshouse growers need, in Spain and other countries. Meilland's area of glass for research and trials is about 100 acres, more than twice the size of the entire cut rose industry in England."

In 1971, Tantau introduced an orange-yellow Floribunda called 'Belinda' that went on to become one of the most widely grown florist roses. One of 'Belinda's parents is 'Zorina', an orange-red Floribunda that was introduced by Gene Boerner in 1963. 'Zorina' figures in the parentage of many of Kordes' cut roses as well. Another orange Floribunda, a vivid orange-red called 'Mercedes', was a great success. It was introduced by Reimer Kordes in 1974. 'Mercedes' has been called the "Queen of the greenhouse/cut flower family"; and was one of the first in this shade.

'Dream' is an incredibly successful light pink Hybrid Tea that Kordes introduced in the late 1970s. Among its good points is anArena's DreamWIDTH="257" HEIGHT="400" HSPACE=10 VSPACE=5 BORDER=1> exceptionally long vase life of over two weeks. It is grown around the world as a cut-flower. It has also produced several wonderful sports. Kordes has introduced several of them. They are identical to their parent in every way except color -- 'Arena's Dream' and 'Cream Dream' are cream-colored. 'Myrna's Dream' is peach. 'Royal Dream' is rose pink.

Despite an increasingly broader range of colors to choose from, red is still the most popular. Alain Meilland wrote in Meilland: A Life in Roses, "more than half the demand for garden varieties is for red roses. The percentage is even higher in the field of roses for florists... In northern countries yellow roses, salmon-colored roses, and geranium-colored roses are the most appreciated. In the south people tend more toward rose-colored varieties..." Mark Johnson of 2 Dozen Roses . com says the US is considered a red rose market. The most popular red varieties are 'Madame Delbard', 'Charlotte', and 'Classy'. According to Sean McCann, one of the best American-bred red greenhouse roses is 'Samantha' -- it's blooms are purported to last longer than any other red rose.

Miguel Palacios, Jackson & Perkins Greenhouse Roses Representative for Mexico and Central America, says 'Red France' is the up-and-coming red Hybrid Tea. It's even overtaking 'Kardinal', a perfectly formed, scarlet-red Hybrid Tea that was bred by Kordes and is known for performing especially well in cooler climates. In fact, it is not recommended for equatorial climates. 'Kardinal' is one of the standards that newer red roses are compared to and is also a rose that is widely available to the home gardener. 'Red France' has a good number of petals and a better stem length than 'Kardinal', as well as a very impressive vase life.

Other reds that are popular in the States are 'Vega' ('Royalty'), and 'Black Magic' (a dark velvety red Hybrid Tea). 'Colinda'Colinda is a bright red that will not blue and has a long vase life. 'Emperor' is a long-stemmed red Hybrid Tea. 'Red Spirit' is a clear red that holds its color, lasts up to two weeks in the vase, and is almost thornless. 'Red Velvet' has dark red buds that open to large flowers on long, strong stems. 'Sacha' is a Floribunda/Sweetheart of 'Calibra' that is bright red like 'Kardinal'.

'First Red' is a large, well-formed Hybrid Tea. 'Legacy' has classic velvet-red blooms that do not turn blue. The goal in the breeding of this rose was to produce a long-stemmed rose which had the excellent petal substance and bright red color of 'Kardinal'. 'Primo' is a velvety dark red Hybrid Tea.

Although the color red predominates, florist roses come in a wide range of other colors as well. Like white for instance. Palacios says the best known white varieties are 'Crystalline', 'Polo', 'Virginia', 'Escimo', 'Opulence', and 'Tineke'.

'Crystalline' is a crystal clear white rose and a variety that not only is a great cut-flower rose, but is a good garden rose as well and is widely available to the home grower. 'Virginia' is another clear-white Hybrid Tea that although not as widely available as 'Crystalline' is offered by some mail-order nurseries. 'Escimo' is a fragrant, white Floribunda from Kordes that is noted for the incredbile number of blooms that it produces. 'Opulence' is a also a fragrant white Hybrid Tea with long, strong stems and a vase life of 11 days. It has proven to be a good show rose. 'Belle Perle' is quite new and white like 'Opulence'. Palacios thinks we'll be seeing more of this one in the future. 'Tineke's greenish buds open into 50-petalled almost pure white flowers. 'Medeo', a sport of 'Kiss', is a rich, champagne-colored Floribunda from Kordes. 'Wishing Well' has loads of creamy white blooms, dark green foliage and an excellent vase life.

'Angela' is a fragrant, creamy white Hybrid Tea. 'Anna' Annahas large creamy ivory blooms that are tinged pink on the outer petals. 'Osiana' is a world famous champagne-colored Hybrid Tea with long stems from Tantau. 'Peaches 'N Cream', a sport of 'Osiana', is similar to its parent in every way but color. It's coral peach with a cream reverse. Buds will open completely, so this rose is best when cut tight. (Not to be confused with the light-peach Miniature by the same name.) 'Escimo' is a white Hybrid Tea from Kordes that is a great greenhouse rose and a good garden rose, too.

Of the colored varieties, Palacios recommends 'Flamenco' with its yellow buds that are edged in red and open to striking yellow blooms edged in a combination of orange, red, and pink. 'Flamenco' is the standard yellow sweetheart cut rose on the market. It is known worldwide for incredible production (approximately 225 flowers per square metre per year in production) and outstanding vase life -- up to 16 days. Introduced by Kordes in the 70's, it is still popular two and a half decades later.

If you're looking for some striking color combinations, one of these roses might fit the bill. 'Lavender Duet' has fragrant lavender blooms with a cream reverse and almost sixty petals. 'Gayle' is a pink-edged lemony cream Hybrid Tea in the south, more of Floribunda in northern climates. It also has an impressive vase life of up to two weeks.

For white roses with a pink edge you might consider 'Fantasy' or 'Harmonie'. 'Harmonie' is a cream, peach and pink Hybrid Tea. To my eye, the blossoms are actually a warm cream with a pink edge. Be aware, there are at least two roses with this name. Kordes also introduced a salmon-pink Hybrid Tea in the early 1980s.

Red and white is a great combination. 'Raphaela' is bright, raspberry-red with a silver-white reverse. This is another florist rose that is also grown by home gardeners. 'Fire 'n' Ice' is a well-established florist rose that has successfully crossed over to the garden. It is red with a white reverse and pumps out a lot of blooms. 'Henri Matisse' is a pink and white striped Hybrid Tea -- more pink than white.

A hint of green can be attractive, too. 'Limona' has pale green buds that have a faint tinge of pink on the petal tips and open to fragrant cream and yellow blooms. This rose is a good candidate for the garden, too. In the bud stage, 'Envy' is a greenish cream tipped-pink. Buds open to large, licorice-scented, cream blooms that are touched with pink and still retain some of the green coloring on the outer petals. It has very strong stems and a long vase life of about two weeks.

You've also got some strong choices for yellow. 'Emblem' is a well-known, bright yellow Hybrid Tea. 'Santa Fe' is a butter yellow Hybrid Tea with large buds and flowers. 'Sunny Jean' has large medium-yellow flowers that are lightly fragrant. 'Yellow Unique' is a bright yellow intermediate with long stems and a long vase life. 'Yellow Goddess' is a sweetheart rose in a deep, intense yellow color. 'Sunny Sky's unique copper-yellow coloration has made it a favorite in Europe.

Corvette'Corvette' a brilliant orange-red Hybrid Tea with a long vase life. It is another one of those roses that performs well both in the greenhouse as well as the garden. Kordes introduced 'Corvette' in 1997. Although not yet widely available to the home gardener, this looks like a rose with great potential. 'Mango' is an intermediate with deep apricot-yellow blooms. 'Saturn' has orange-yellow buds that open into orange-pink-yellow blossoms.

There are a number of roses called "Tango". The florist rose called 'Tango' is a coral-orange bicolor with a cream reverse. 'Konfetti' is orange-red with a yellow reverse.

In the Pink Department, there're a number of choices, too. 'Bo',Bo is a light salmon-pink Hybrid Tea. 'Eliza' is a bright medium to dark pink Hybrid Tea. 'Hawaii' produces coral pink, densely petalled flowers. There's a Boerner Hybrid Tea with the same name. 'Vision' is a full-flowered, salmon pink Hybrid Tea. 'Kiko' is a hot pink Hybrid Tea that holds its color. 'Marvel' is a deep pink Hybrid Tea that makes a superb cut rose. Stems are extra long and the blossoms hold their color well. 'Ravel' is a large Hybrid Tea with deep pink blooms. 'Sara' is a clear-pink Hybrid Tea.

For unusual colors, think about 'Allure' and 'Antique Brass'. 'Allure' (the rose formerly known as 'Sterling '95') is a fragrant silver-lavender Hybrid Tea with four-inch blooms. Under greenhouse production, this variety can really pump out the blooms, too -- 250 flowers per square metre per year. 'Antique Brass™' has honeyed apricot blooms and long, strong stems, fruity fragrance, and an almost two-week vase life.

Hybrid Teas and Floribundas aren't the only types of roses that you'll find at a florist's shop. Jackson & Perkins Greenhouse Roses offers a line of spray roses called Cosmic Fiesta that come in just about every color combination you can imagine. Each spray creates an instant bouquet. 'Comet Tail' (creamy white blossoms streaked with lavender), 'Coral Galaxy' (deep coral), 'Golden Galaxy' (a pure yellow spray rose with strong stems) 'Heavenly Pink' (light pink) 'Lucky Star' (rosy pink), 'Meteor Shower' (a rather novel color -- coral to deep orange), 'Moonstruck' (cream to champagne), 'Morning Star' (light pink), and it's counterpart, 'Night Star' (a novel deep plum color that deepens to burgundy in a vase), 'Pink Gemini;' (coral pink with a lighter reverse), 'Star Wheel' (lavender with a white reverse), 'Starburst' (medium to light yellow flowers that hold their color well), 'Starlight Fantasy' (pristine white blooms with ruffled edges), 'Super Celeste' (salmon-pink), and 'Supernova' (hot pink).

For further information:
Generate a list of all the florist roses at, by choosing Roses by Class and selecting "Florist Roses".
Visit Jackson & Perkins Greenhouse Roses web site.
Visit the Society of American Florists' web site.
Visit Roses Incorporated's web site.
Carlton Rose Nurseries is a good source for gardeners who want to try to grow some of these florist varieties at home.
Check out Rayford Reddell's book, Cut-Flower Roses. Reddell is the owner of Garden Valley Ranch where they grow thousands of roses out-of-doors for the cut-flower trade. This book deals with 40 of what Reddell considers to be the best varieties and offers practical advice on how to get the most out of them.

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