Early Roses: Tea, Oriental And European Varieties

Rose History, The Early Roses (pre-1820)

Why pre 1820? Well, this was the date that cross breeding between Asian and European varieties began. After this date, new rose types came into existence - my favorites, the "Old Fashioned Roses".

This is not intended as a reference, merely to give you a little background to the history of the rose. The early roses can be divided into two distinct groups. The Oriental roses which includes the Tea rose and the China rose, and the European roses - damasks, alba, gallicas etc.

Oriental Roses

Tea Rose

So named for its scent of fresh tea, the Tea rose originated in the east, but wasn't introduced to the west until the late 1700s or early 1800s. Although the Tea rose was a repeat flowering plant it had one major drawback - it wasn't at all hardy.

It was also rather weak growing, and it wouldn't be until some crosses were made with the European varieties, that a more hardy plant was produced.

China Rose

As the name suggests this rose originated from China. However, I believe it is also native to other eastern countries, such as Korea and Japan. They first made an appearance in Europe in 1790, and efforts were made to establish a breeding programmme with them, especially in France. Their main attraction was the fact that they would bloom continually throughout the growing season, which was in contrast to other known varieties of the time.

European Roses

The drawback to the early European varieties was their lack of a repeat bloom. A few weeks of flowering, and that was it for another year. However, they were hardy and survived the colder European climate well. There was also a limited color range - most of them tended to be some shade of pink, red, or white.


The origins of this rose are unknown -this is the rose so often featured in the work of the Dutch masters.


These descend from the French rose, r.gallica.Some examples include 'Tuscany', and 'Versicolor'. Colors range from blush pink, through to deep maroon.


Possibly derived from R.canina x R.damascena, although this is unknown. Albas typically make large, healthy shrubs with fragrant white or light pink blossoms, usually in few-flowered clusters.


According to tradition, this rose was brought back to Europe by the crusaders in 1254. It was thought that it originated from Damascus, hence the name. Reknown for their fine fragrance, these are the roses used for the perfume industry.

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