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The Florist Rose Trade - The Most Popular Flower Sold at Florists
History
Roses are the most popular flower sold at florists and flower markets. It has become the symbol of love, affection, and friendship. If your spouse is mad at you, or you want to impress your new sweetie, what do you usually do? Send a dozen roses, of course. Roses have become so popular that the colors represented some sign of emotion. But roses were not always the top florist flower.

Before the 1850s, roses were not as popular as they are today. There were several reasons, but mostly they didn’t bloom very well and didn’t take to forcing in greenhouses. Roses were spring and summer flowers only. During this time, hybrid perpetuals were just being introduced and a few tea roses as well.

Hermosa (China, light pink, <1837) was the first rose to make a big splash in the florist market. It was the first rose that could be forced to bloom during the winter. At that time roses were largely sold as buds for use in corsages and small bouquets. Stems 2-6 inches long were the norm, even though they could get an occasional 10-12 inch stem. However, long stems were not the rage and few cared. Foliage and stems didn’t matter since most of the roses ended up in corsages.

After Hermosa, the tea rose Safrano (apricot, 1839) became the most popular rose. Next was the tea, Bon Silene, aka the Boston Tea Rose. The reddish color made this rose quite popular. Other tea roses and hybrid perpetuals came onto the market: Isabella Sprunt, Niphetos, Catherine Mermet, Anna de Diesbach, Magna Carta, Marechal Neil, and Ma Capucine to name a few. In the late 1800s, Anna de Diesbach was the rage, to be replaced by the long stems of American Beauty, which was replaced by Mme Falcot. Even Noisettes were sold as florist roses, but mostly to people who used them to breed.

American Beauty (1885) made one of the biggest splashes in the florist industry, but it almost didn’t. The rose was imported from France by the rose historian George Bancroft. The rose produced deep red, long-stemmed roses. It was a very fussy and temperamental rose and was almost discarded until the growers found what conditions made it grow and produce well. The stems were legendary and in one of the earliest ARS shows, there was a class calling for the longest-stemmed American Beauty. The winner had a stem 9 feet long!

However, American Beauty was not the most popular red rose at the time nor was it the rage for as long as Meteor (deep pink, 1887). Meteor was from Rudolf Geschwind and classified as a noisette. It was almost another rose that was destined for the trash heap when by accident a nursery left a few plants next to the boiler and sitting in water. They found it flourished in heat and needed a lot of water.

It was during this time around 1900, that roses became one of the most popular florist flowers, replacing carnations, and helped the fledgling American Rose Society become a serious organization. Roses claimed the title of the Queen of Florist Roses, and it still continues today. The first 14 Presidents of the ARS were either florists, rose growers, or nurserymen. ARS was originally formed as a professional organization, but amateur gardeners were never discouraged from joining. It wasn’t until 1916 that they made a serious attempt to appeal to the casual gardener and form the basis of the organization as it is today.

The time came for hybrid teas to replace the older rose classes. With hybrid teas came more colors, longer blooming periods and amount of bloom. Liberty, Killarney, and Richmond were some of the popular red hybrid tea roses. Killarney and their sports dominated the market. A former President of the ARS, Wallace Pierson, wrote that Killarney and its sports make a family all their own and have done more for American varieties than any other rose. This was true as White Killarney and Double White Killarney were the best whites for many years in the 1910s on.

Ophelia (light pink) and her sports were quite popular and Radiance (light pink) and her sports dominated the market for awhile. One of the best winter blooming hybrid teas was Hoosier Beauty. Other top roses were Hadley, Talisman, Wellesley, Mrs. Francis Scott Key, and Mrs. Charles Russell.

Yellow was a difficult color to get into roses, and the noisette Marechal Neil held the top yellow place for many years after it was introduced in 1864. Other early yellow roses were Mrs. Aaron Ward, Lady Hillingdon, and Souvenir de Claudius Pernet. A favorite yellow in 1916 was Sunburst, but it wasn’t the best yellow.

Some roses were better known at certain times of the year. Some were spring roses, others fall or winter. Richmond was the best red rose at Christmas.

In the early years, American Beauty, Bride and Bridesmaid were the only roses commonly seen at florist shops. However in time, people tired of them and looked for other roses. It wasn’t to say they were bad roses, they just fell victim to the changing tastes of the public. Starting in the 1920s, hybrid teas pretty well dominated the florist rose market which continues to this day.

During the 1930s, some of the most popular florist roses were the yellow Captain Glisson, red Peerless, yellow blend Yellow Dot, and the pink Sweet Adeline. Captain Glisson proved to be a valuable breeding rose as it was used to produce several florist varieties. In the 1940s, there were several florist roses that hit the market including the yellows Barbara Mason, Yellow Beauty, and Nuggets; the reds Coral Sea, Glamour Girl, Hill Crest, Lucile Supreme, Red Delicious, Spitfire and its sport Spitfire Improved; and the pinks Jean MacArthur (named for the wife of General MacArthur), Mrs. Jeannette G. Leeds, Peter’s Briarcliff, and Rosy Glow. During the 1950s, some floribundas made their way into the florist market including White Garnette, Feurio, and Fire Opal. Hybrid teas from the 1950s include the yellow Alice Manley, red Christmas Cheer, white Halo, and pink Pink Glow.

Florist Rose Imports
Until recently, the Netherlands was the largest source of imported roses in America. In 1992, we visited the flower market at Aalsmeer, Netherlands. It was interesting to see the bidding and the mass of flowers being moved around. My understanding is they start with a high bid and work their way down. The building is massive. From one end of the building you cannot see the other end, it is that long. The guide told us that most of the flowers once they are bought go immediately to the airport and are flown around the world. So, many of the roses we purchase may have been in the Netherlands only a few days before.

Since then, there has been a big push from South America, especially Ecuador, to supply cheaper roses. The roses are grown outdoors and they have all the qualities of the greenhouse grown varieties.

Today, Columbia has pretty well replaced Ecuador and the Netherlands as the largest source of cut roses for the American market. Of the close to one billion stems imported into the United States, Columbia accounts for 63% of the total, Ecuador 31% and the rest of the world 6%. Columbia has transformed many of the old cocaine fields into the cut flower trade, and they export almost as many cut flowers as they do coffee. At last count, 15,000 acres are devoted to the cut flower trade. Only the Netherlands ships more cut flowers than Columbia.

Exhibiting Florist Roses
Florist roses are very popular with the exhibitors. They typically have good exhibition form with lots of petal substance to hold up for judging. However, most florist roses do not grow well outdoors. They were developed for greenhouse growing only and were never tested outside. Over the years, only a few florist roses succeeded in growing well outside the greenhouse. Sonia was the first of these. This long-time standard for peach roses did very well outside. Next was the deep red Kardinal. Perfect form, but the blooms shrink in the heat. It is still grown and wins today. One of the best specimens I have ever seen was at the 1994 national convention in San Diego. It won Queen that day. Crystalline did well outside and has become one of the top exhibition roses in the nation. In our heat, the rose wants to spray and produces a lot of thin wispy growth. It does much better in the cooler climates. Raphaela is another long-time orange florist rose that has been grown outdoors with some success. It is a terrible mildewer so you have to spray it a lot. The petals have so much substance, the exhibitors have to force the petals open while it is still on the bush. It is not for the casual gardener. A good one for our heat is Black Magic. Good form on a clean plant with long stems. Blooms can be a tad small for the show, but it is winning. Others that seem to do well outside right now are Hot Princess, Exotica and Fantasy.

Other florist roses have been tried outdoors, but few have succeeded outdoors and on the show table for very long. Roses like Leonidas, Osiana, Opulence, Perfumella, Blue Bell, Anna, Barock, Belle Rouge, Claudia, Sorbet, Orlando, Red Velvet, Corina, Duchess, Hollywood, and Vendela have pretty well come and gone.

Hybridizing Florist Roses
For the hybridizers, creating a good florist rose is a gold mine and most will test roses specifically for the greenhouse. Compared to the general rose market, the odds of hitting a good florist rose is about ten times higher than a good garden rose. When we toured Jackson & Perkins testing facility a few years back, we were told that only one maybe two will ever make it to the next cut for the florist market. Tantau of Germany has been a big producer of florist roses in recent years.

From the 1900s though the 1940s, most of the florist roses were developed by E.G. Hill. Starting in the 1950s, Jackson & Perkins created many of the florist varieties, especially roses hybridized by Eugene Boerner, in the earlier years. Most of the American florist roses today are from Jackson & Perkins and Weeks Roses.

Meanings of Rose Colors
Over time, certain rose colors had a special meaning. Here is a list of some of the more common colors and their meanings.
 Red roses mean love, passion and respect.
 Pink roses mean happiness, appreciation, admiration, friendship and sympathy.
 Light pink roses mean grace, joy, gentility and admiration.
 Dark pink roses mean thankfulness.
 Lavender roses symbolize enchantment, and love at first sight.
 White roses mean spiritual love, virginity and purity. They can also mean secrecy, reverence, humility, worthiness, innocence or charm.
 Yellow roses mean friendship, joy, gladness or freedom.
 Coral roses mean desire.
 Peach roses mean modesty.
 Orange roses mean a feeling of enthusiasm, desire and fascination.
 White and red roses mixed together mean unity.
 Red and yellow roses together mean congratulations.
 Red and white roses mean unity.
 Yellow and orange roses mean passionate thoughts.
 Pink and white roses mean enduring love.
 Black roses mean farewell or death.
 Burgundy (and dark red) roses mean unconscious beauty or bashful.

Also, roses have other meanings:
 A rose in general means love.
 A single rose means “I still love you.”
 Two roses together mean a commitment or forthcoming marriage.
 Light colored roses mean friendship.
 A Rosa carolina rose means love is dangerous.
 A damask rose means brilliant complexion, bashful love.
 A moss rosebud means confession of love.
 A thornless rose means early attachment.
 A wild rose means simplicity.
 A rosebud (except red or yellow) means young girl.
 A Rosa canina means pleasure and pain.
 A musk rose means capricious beauty.
 A withered white rose means death or loss of innocence.
 12 roses mean gratitude.
 25 roses mean congratulations.
 50 roses mean unconditional love.

The rose has been big in America for over a century and will continue to be the top flower for many years to come.

Steve Jones is currently the Vice President of the American Rose Society. This article is reprinted from the July/August 2004 issue of “Rose Ecstasy,” bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

© Copyright 2004, Steve Jones, All Rights Reserved.
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