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Peter D. A. Boyd

Scots Roses - cultivars of Rosa pimpinellifolia

Peter D. A. Boyd

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BOYD, P.D.A. 2002. Scots Roses - cultivars of Rosa pimpinellifolia. NCCPG Shropshire Branch Spring Newsletter 2002 National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens

The Burnet Rose Rosa pimpinellifolia used to be called Rosa spinosissima and is still found under this name in some publications. It is a native plant that gave rise to hundreds of named cultivars in the early 1800s. The normal flower colour of this sweetly scented species is white but variations do occur in wild populations.

Selection from the wild and sowing of seed from coloured and double-flowered plants by Scottish nurseries produced a range of colours including white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple and mauve plus forms with mottled or striped flowers. Because of this history, they are often known as 'Scots Roses' or 'Scots Briers'. They flower profusely for a relatively short period in May, June or July but some may have a few flowers in the autumn. The scent of most cultivars is wonderful but many yellow forms owe their colour to Rosa foetida in the parentage and the scent is less pleasant.

I have been collecting cultivars of Rosa pimpinellifolia since the 1970s but have enlarged my collection particularly during the last four or five years - collecting from National Trust for Scotland properties and private gardens in Scotland and elsewhere. Because many Rosa pimpinellifolia cultivars spread by suckers, old varieties have sometimes survived through perseverance in old gardens and gardeners are normally kind enough to allow a few suckers to be dug-up for propagation. Sometimes, their suckering habit and prickly stems have prompted gardeners to grub-out what can be invasive plants and old cultivars have been lost. I have been told of several cases where whole collections of old varieties have been destroyed by the new owner of a garden before seeing their beauty in flower.

I am keen to rediscover and preserve the diversity of these cultivars. I have assembled over 60 of them so far and, with encouragement from the present National Collection holder and others, submitted my collection for National Collection status. I await a decision. Currently, the only National Collection of Scots Roses is held by Iris Strachan near Biggar in Scotland.

Scots Roses are quite easy to propagate and much loved for their 'cheerfulness' and beautiful scent by those who appreciate their character. Therefore, they belong to that group of 'cottage garden' plants that have been passed on from one garden to another between friends. A particular cultivar may therefore be quite common in one area but unknown outside it. However, they are usually known only by the name of the person who gave it or the place from whence it came. Few of the old named cultivars are known by their original name and those few cultivars that are sold by nurseries are frequently mis-named. In several cases, the same cultivar is sold under different names by different nurseries.

I would be very interested to hear of any cultivars of Rosa pimpinellifolia 'with a history' that Shropshire members may have in their gardens. You may know that the plant has been in your garden for a very long time, that it has a family history or is frequently seen in local gardens. Perhaps you would be kind enough to allow me to see the plant in flower, photograph it and possibly collect propagating material.

I hope to be able to write an illustrated article about these roses in an appropriate publication later this year.

National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens website


See Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias for other papers on Scots Roses by Peter Boyd



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Revised: 28th August 2006.