Rose Mosaic Virus

Have you ever had a rose with yellow lines on the leaves? Or leaves with random green and yellow blotches? If so, that rose probably had what is known as Rose Mosaic Virus (RMV).

Rose Mosaic Virus is a serious disease that has affected a large percentage of the commercial rose stock in the United States. Along with those unsightly leaf markings, RMV can cause:

  • Reduced vigor
  • A shorter life span
  • Decreased bloom production
  • Stunted growth
  • Shorter flower stems
  • Leaves that are distorted, puckered, or smaller in size
  • Poor transplant survival
  • Decreased winter hardiness


Identifying Rose Mosaic Virus

The easiest way to identify RMV is through the leaf markings it produces. There are several distinct patterns, but they all indicate the presence of RMV.

  1. Line banding produces leaves with yellow to whitish lines in a zigzag pattern. Often, this appears on the center of the leaf and resembles an Oak Leaf.
  2. Mosaic tiling looks like tiles, because the amount of yellowing is plentiful. This gives the virus its name.
  3. Watermarking is characterized by faint, almost invisible, swirls or squiggles in the green color of the leaf.
  4. Vein banding looks like the reverse of iron deficiency; the veins are yellow and the leaf is green.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Line banding[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Mosaic[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Watermarking[/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Vein banding[/caption]

Hidden Symptoms

Rose Mosaic Virus is one of the more interesting rose ailments because it is highly variable and does not always present symptoms. Sometimes the virus causes serious damage; other times the symptoms are mild and can be easily overlooked.

  • Symptoms are more pronounced in spring and fall.
  • The drier, hotter conditions of summer inhibit the virus. As a result, the virus may seem to “disappear,” with growth appearing normal in the summer.
  • It is also not unusual for a plant to be several years old before showing any signs of RMV.

Heirloom Roses Ensures Virus-free Roses

Heirloom Roses produces only own-root, virus-free roses. How do we do that? When most people think of a virus, they envision the common cold, something that transfers easily from one person to another.

RMV is not contagious in the environment; adjacent rose bushes cannot “catch” RMV from a nearby plant that is infected.

RMV spreads only through grafting, where the cutting of a desired rose variety has been grafted onto the rootstock of another variety. Grafting has been the traditional method of rose production in the United States. Heirloom Roses pioneered the practice of producing own-root roses for commercial resale to ensure virus-free roses.


A Bit of History

Rose Mosaic Virus was virtually unknown prior to 1920, which was about the time the rose ‘Dr. Huey’ began to be used industry-wide in the U.S. as a commercial rootstock.  Some have also speculated the virus was introduced by grafting some wood from an apple tree onto a rose. While the bud would not take, it would eventually infect the rose with the virus.

Regardless of RMV’s origin, no rose is immune to this systemic virus.

Once an infected portion is grafted with a healthy cutting or rootstock, the virus will spread throughout the plant via the phloem (food-conducting) system.

Reduced Risks, Healthier Roses

Since Heirloom Roses produces only own-root roses from rooted cuttings instead of by grafting, this greatly reduces the likelihood of our roses having a virus. But that is only half the story:

  • Heirloom Roses has to ensure that our stock plants used for cuttings are virus-free as well. At one point in time, it was estimated that up to 90% of the commercial roses in the U.S. were infected with virus.
  • Rose virus is not as big a problem in roses originating and grown in Europe (the majority of rootstock in Europe is grown from seeds which are virus free).
  • For this reason, nearly every variety of rose sold by Heirloom Roses has been imported from Europe to ensure virus-free stock for our customers.
  • We use a process called “virus-indexing” to ensure virus-free stock for certain varieties that originate in the U.S.

Heirloom Roses is committed to ensuring that our roses are virus-free. On the extremely rare occasion that one of our plants exhibits virus, that plant is removed and destroyed immediately, along with all of its retail cuttings. While others in the industry may not exhibit the same concern, we never market a variety that is known to have virus. That is our guarantee.


Look-a-like Diseases

There are many other foliar diseases that can create symptoms similar to RMV. Make sure that you do not confuse RMV with the natural diseases that roses can attract like:

  • Black spot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Rust
  • Downy mildew

Certain mineral deficiencies can also cause yellowed leaves. However, should you suspect one of your grafted roses has virus, the only remedy you have is to replace it-preferably with an own-root rose.