Color and Fragrance in Roses

By John Clements

The most common color found in roses is pink, including the wild roses. Today many blends and shades are available. From the pink, red, yellow, and white basic for colors of the past, in this century through breeding there are such colors as lavender, apricot, peach, orange, and combinations of these. I know that almost everyone has a favorite rose color - but these may vary over time. Nearly forty years ago red was by far the most popular color; in fact, more than 40% of the roses sold by florists were red. About twenty years ago the intensely bright orange-red or vermillion color of ‘Tropicana’ became the rage. Today gardeners’ tastes have mellowed, and pastels, especially apricot and peach (and the colors found in ‘Jude the Obscure’) are very popular.

Many look forward to blue or black roses. The pigment for the color blue does not exist in roses, and the scientists say there will never be a blue rose bred naturally. However, in Australia, through genetic engineering - they are taking the blue pigment from a different flower species and trying to implant that in a rose.

As for black, there are dark red roses today that are very close to black, especially in the bud and in cool weather. The problem with this color is that a black rose would burn under a hot sun as would a person who wears a black shirt.

Within a single variety the color of a rose will vary depending on many factors. The minerals in your soil, the season of the year, your climate, the fertilizer and nutrients you give your rose - all these have a subtle effect on its color.  There is one thing you can do to improve the intensity or deepen the color of roses in your garden wherever you live. At spring pruning time, sprinkle one-half cup of Epsom salts around the dripline of a mature rose bush (use proportionately less for smaller bushes). Those with many roses may find it much cheaper to buy sacks of magnesium sulfate at a farm supply store.

Fragrance in roses is a very interesting and complex subject. Roses have many different fragrances and combination of fragrance, including such varied scents as apple, tea, hyacinth, myrrh and what has become known as damask perfume.  Henri Delbard of France, possibly the world expert on rose fragrance says that when you smell a rose, you should smell it for only four or five seconds. That will implant the scent in our memory. If you wish to get a true essence of the perfume of several roses, you should smell coffee beans between each sniff. The best time to smell your roses is in the morning when the temperature is about 65 - 70 degrees (F). As the day gets warmer, the fragrance oils evaporate somewhat.

Fragrance is one of the most important and lovely benefits of growing roses. In this century, when the hybrid tea rose became the rage, breeders aimed for large, high-centered hybrid tea blooms as well as new and different colors. Fragrance, which is an elusive factor in breeding, was all but forgotten in their quest for the exhibition bloom.

It took David Austin of England to concentrate on breeding fragrance back into the rose, to awaken gardeners to what they had been missing for years. Some people have a much keener sense of smell than others, so a rose may smell strongly scented to one person and not to another.

The subject can get complex. There is one rose breeder who cannot smell any fragrance in yellow roses, yet he enjoys the perfume in roses of other colors.  Each person is subjective when it comes to rose fragrance. While the nose knows, it doesn’t always know the same thing that another nose knows.

" 0 sweet the rose that blossometh on Friendship’s tree! It fills my heart with joy and ecstasy. I seek the rose’s company because her scent recalls the fragrance sweet of ONE belov’d by me — Hafiz, 1300-1388