Dear Miss Floribunda,
I am perplexed and annoyed. One of my rose bushes has changed the color of its flowers! When I planted it three years ago it produced beautiful urn-shaped pink flowers and this year the blooms are dark red and very simple. The rose in question is Pink Peace. Do you know if it has ever been known to morph like this? The only other possibility I can think of is that someone dug up my rose and replaced it. I’ve heard of “rose rustling.” Is that what it is? Please help me figure out what happened. I am quite upset.
Seeing Red on Emerson Street
Dear Seeing Red, Pink Peace is a hybrid tea, which is usually grafted onto sturdier root stock. What has happened is that it has died and the rootstock onto which it was grafted is growing and blooming in its place. From your description, the rootstock is Dr. Huey, a red climber often used for this purpose in our area. (Other rootstock is used farther south, north and west.) Dr. Huey, by the way, was a dentist who was an avid, if not very talented, amateur rosarian, and he was a generous patron of rose breeders. One of them named a red rose after him. While many think this cupshaped rose filled with golden stamens has charm, it lacks fragrance and its blooms do not repeat. Rarely would one prefer it to the trendier rose grafted on it. My sister Multiflora, who has more land and rose bushes than she can keep track of, has a solution. When Dr. Huey takes over she waits till it goes dormant and replants it in a place no other rose can survive. She will replace the original rose with an ownroot cultivar. Ownroot roses are not as immediately vigorous as grafted roses and need more attention at first, but once established she doesn’t have to worry about the re-intrusion of the pushy Dr. Huey.
You may be wondering what happened to your beautiful Pink Peace. Hard winters sometimes cause a grafted rose to die and leave only indestructible Dr. Huey, but last winter was relatively mild. Perhaps your rose bush was damaged in some other way. Sometimes Dr. Huey will send up vampiric suckers from below when the base of the rose bush is injured in some way, perhaps scraped by a lawn mower or injured by a hoe or other weeding implement. These need to be pulled off at the base or they will suck the life from the grafted part of the rose and take over. One of the ways of recognizing them is that they come up from beneath the crown of the rose, which is the point of grafting; they are green rather than brown, their leaves have a different look.
This is a good place to explain what “rose rustling” is. Not surprisingly, the term comes from Texas and the practice is prevalent there. Quite a few antique rose varieties can be found in old cemeteries and abandoned homesteads. Rose “rustlers” do not dig up the actual rose bush, but take cuttings. Many of these oldies but goodies have been successfully identified — in one case by the visiting French scion of the Meilland family of rose breeders. He was able to identify some of the roses originally introduced by his great-great grandfather just by looking out the car window while driving through Texas. Other heirloom roses remain unidentified and have taken on the names of the families who have preserved them; or, as in the case of “Sam Houston,” they are named in honor of prominent Texans.