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2005 ARS Award of Merit Certificate Winner


In the Beginning - Part I

by Mary Peterson


You might suppose that a history of miniature roses would be pretty straight forward. Unfortunately such is not the case. Even the ‘Grande Dame’ of miniatures, Marget Pinney, seems slightly bemused by the convoluted history of these tiny treasures.


Whether through myth, legend or intentional subterfuge, the true history will most probably never be completely sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction. The age old question, ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ can certainly be brought into play when you begin to discuss the ancestry of modern miniatures.


Some trace their beginnings back to ‘R. roulettii’ while others from ‘Pompon de Paris’, ‘Pumila’ and ‘Oakington Ruby’. Others can be said to have descended from hybrid ‘R. chinensis minima’.  Dwarf sports of some old hybrid teas and a version of the dwarf centifolia, ‘R. centifolia minima’ further muddy the waters.


Some roses introduced in one country were renamed when sold elsewhere if it was felt the original name was too cumbersome or hard to pronounce.


The list of possible originators include: ‘R. centifolia minima’, ‘R. chinensis minima’, ‘R. indica pumila flore simplici’, ‘R. Lawranceana’, ‘R. roulettii’, ‘R. semperflorens minima, and ‘Pompon de Paris’. Now that we have our cast of characters assembled, let us move forward to bring some order out of all the usual suspects.


Some early hybridizers felt there were definitely some differences between these early forbearers while other insist many were one and the same rose. Case in point, Roy Genders writes, “There are two distinct forms of the fairy rose, ‘R. roulettii (or ‘Pompon de Paris’) with its hybrid tea-type flowers and extremely dwarf habit, and the older ‘Gloire de Lawrence’ with its tiny rambler-rose blooms of darkest crimson and slightly more robust habit. It was this latter variety which gave the name of ‘R. Lawrenciana’ to the miniature roses of the nineteenth century, named after Miss Molly Lawrence, whose book on roses, published in 1799 was the first important work devoted to roses.”


The confusion over the names of the first miniature Chinas brought from Europe in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries goes on to this day. The tiny plant said to have been discovered growing in Switzerland by Major Roulet and named ‘R. roulettii’ by M. Correvon to honor him is a much different plant than those grown in the United States by that same name. This larger plant is called, ‘Pompon de Paris’ in Europe by breeders there.


‘R. chinensis minima’ or ‘Lawrenciana’ appears in writings to be larger than the ‘R. roulettii’ that we recognize today. Various gardens and gardeners report varying sizes, growth habit, and color of bloom, size and shape of bloom as well as differences in sepals.


Even Modern Roses V gets into the fray saying that ‘Lawranceana’ is an obsolete name from ‘R. chinensis minima’ and ‘Gloire de or des Lawrence’.


The lists of rose authorities goes on and one with each expounding at great length that this rose is different from this rose and that rose is the same as that rose.


Mr. de Vink cautioned the use of the term ‘miniature’ when describing any rose not directly descended from the European ‘R. roulettii’. It was felt by many rose authorities the dwarf polyanthas did not belong in the miniature class.


Charles Marden Fitch states that “; R. chinensis minima’ has never been found in the wild. Botanists however trace ‘R. chinensis minima’ to China where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Hybrids between various forms of this species are in the background of nearly all present-day miniatures. The cultivated roses, ‘Pompon de Paris’ and ‘Roulettii’ are two presently grown cultivars close to the original. Miniatures sometimes grown as ‘R. lawranceana’ are botanically ‘R. chinensis minimus’ cultivars. Although ‘R. chinensis minima’ is not a pure species found in nature today, it is treated as a species in breeding and international registrations.


It is difficult to imagine that we are discussing the same rose variety that exhibits such a wide variety of properties simply by virtue of habitat and cultural practices as has been suggested by some experts.


Upon close observation and comparison, it is noted that the sepals of ‘Pompon de Paris’ are rather plain while ‘Roulettii’ exhibits feathery sepals, more open flowers and a larger bloom.


Fitch goes on to explain, ‘several old rose hybrids appear as key clones in miniature rose history. Besides ‘R. chinensis minima’ are its cultivated varieties such as ‘Pompon de Paris’ (1839) and ‘Roulettii’ (1917) originally discovered in European gardens. ‘Oakington Ruby’ found by C.R. Bloom in an old garden of Oakington, near Cambridge, England, was introduced in 1933. Ralph Moore used it for several of his most important foundation crosses.”


The future of today’s miniature roses lies in the capable hands of imaginative hybridizers around the world who look to a future filled with expectation and promise. This cadre of dreamers included Jan de Vink of Holland, Pedro Dot of Spain, Ralph Moore of Visalia, California; Ernest Williams in Dallas, Texas, and Harm Saville of Rowley, Massachusetts.


There were a few more hybridizers who blazed an enlightened trail for others to follow by using different seed parents and different pollen parents and they included Lyndon Lyon of Dolgeville, Wisconsin, Ernest Swartz in Maryland, Dr. Dennison H. Morey who worked with the Jackson & Perkins Company. W. Kordes and Mathias Tantau in Germany, G. deRuiter of Holland and Sam McGredy of New Zealand and the Meilland family in France. I will explore the achievements and advances of these ‘dreamers’ in Part II.


Sean McCann says that miniature roses were being sold in market stalls as pot plants in Asia and Europe as early as the 1700s. He feels that they were bred from a variety of Chinese roses, but points to ‘R. roulettii’ as being the prime suspect that started it all. He goes on to list ‘R. indica pumila’, ‘Pompon de Paris’ and ‘Oakington Ruby’ as the four roses most likely responsible for the foundation of the miniature rose of today. He felt, upon closer examination, that ‘R. indica pumila’ and ‘Pompon de Paris’ were the same variety but none the less mentions these four as the progenitors of the miniature breeding program.


Gerd Krussmann gives some tantalizing insight into early miniatures by saying, ‘Their introduction into Europe is unclear and the literary versions are frequently contradictory. However, most authorities are of the opinion that the miniature rose found in the Botanic Garden on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean by Robert Sweet and taken by him to England in 1815 was ‘R. sempeflorens minima’ or ‘Miss Lawrence’s Rose’. It was described as “freshly imported from China’ by Sims in the Botanical Magazine. In 1817, Thory describe a variety of dwarf rose that was painted by Redoute’ and was called ‘R. indica pumila’.


It is well within the realm of possibility that the rose described by Sweet in 1818 and called ‘R. lawrenceana’ that he said came from the Mauritius in 1810 was the same cultivar 100 years later that was found by Roulet growing in a Swiss window box.


‘Pompon de Paris’ is mentioned as being grown as a pot plant by Parisians in 1823.


History goes on to record that in 1917 Colonel Roulet found a miniature rose in a pot on the window sill of a farmhouse in Mauborget in the Swiss Jura. He sent the plant to Henri Correvon at Chene-Bourg near Geneva, who at once began trying to locate more plants. Unfortunately Mauborget had been largely destroyed by a devastating fire but he did find what he felt was the same plant growing near Onnens and took cuttings from it.


So from humble beginnings shrouded in the mists of time and often hidden or distorted by many descriptions of possibly the same rose, we see an endless variety of miniature roses emerging. Due in no small part to the energy and imagination of men and women all over the world who dare to dream and stand in awe of the magic that develops before their eyes when they see their newest seedling open for the first time. Hopefully displaying a new color, a new form, and a new fragrance that tantalizes the senses and sends them back into the greenhouse with renewed hope for an even better cultivar just waiting to be discovered through yet another stirring of the genetic pool.

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