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Peter D. A. Boyd

Scots Roses then and now

Peter D. A. Boyd

Web version of

BOYD, P.D.A. 2007. 'Scots Roses then and now'. The Plantsman The Royal Horticultural Society. June 2007, pp. 104-111.

N.B. I have used the traditional style 'Scots Roses' throughout the following article instead of the editorial style 'Scots roses' of The Plantsman. I have used entirely my own photographs in this web version whereas some picture library images were used in the published article to better suit the column format of the journal. Short pieces of extra text are inserted within square brackets [.....].


Already going out of fashion by 1840, Scots Roses have a long history. National Plant Collection holder PETER BOYD discusses his research



The true Scots Roses are cultivars of Rosa spinosissima (syn. R. pimpinellifolia) and some hybrids of the species that have similar character. They are sometimes known as Pimpinellifolias. However, that term is often used to include hybrids of R. spinosissima which are not what I regard as typical Scots Roses, and is sometimes used, in an even broader sense, to embrace other species within section Pimpinellifoliae (e.g. R. ecae, R. foetida, R. hugonis, R. primula, R. sericea and R. xanthina). This article is limited to typical Scots Roses and other hybrids of Rosa spinosissima.

Wild Rosa spinosissima usually has white flowers

Scots Roses are sometimes referred to as Scotch Roses (not favoured in Scotland), Scottish Roses (ambiguous) or Burnet Roses because of the resemblance of the leaves to those of Burnets (Sanguisorba spp.). I prefer the capitalised version, Scots Roses [as used in this web version of the article], but editorial styles differ. The old name, R. pimpinellifolia, and the name given to section Pimpinellifoliae, comes from Pimpinella, a previous generic name for Sanguisorbas.

Scots Roses flower profusely in May and June with single or double flowers about 5cm across that are usually sweetly scented. The flower colour can be white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple or mauve, and some cultivars have marbled, striped or veined blooms. Most typical Scots Roses have small leaves, and stems covered with narrow prickles and bristles. They extend by suckers (root-shoots) to form a mound of foliage and flower. Many of them produce attractive black, rounded fruits and some also have good autumn foliage colour in shades of red and orange.

They are unfamiliar to those who visit rose gardens at the peak time for other roses and they are rarely displayed at rose shows which are usually held after their normal flowering time.

Black rounded heps are typical of Rosa spinosissima but some forms have smooth fruit stalks and others have prickly or bristly fruit stalks.

Detail of the young stem of a Rosa spinosissima cultivar showing the mixture of prickles and bristles.


Rosa spinosissima in the wild

Rosa spinosissima occurs naturally over a large part of Europe and Asia. In Britain, it is probably most abundant as a coastal plant growing on sand dunes. The typical form that grows wild in the British Isles and the western fringes of mainland Europe is low-growing, prickly, bristly and suckering with small, single, white flowers and small leaves with 7–11 leaflets [sometimes only 5] that often have an attractive blue-grey colour. In contrast, some forms of the species in cultivation have originally come from inland populations in mainland Europe and Asia and include less bristly, taller growing forms with larger leaves and flowers.


Early cultivation history

The first coloured variants of R. spinosissima were found in the wild and described in the 17th century but no double forms were available from nurseries until the early 19th century. Joseph Sabine (1822) described their early history.

In 1793, Robert Brown and his brother transplanted some of the wild Scots Roses from Kinnoull Hill, near Perth, Scotland, into their nursery of Dickson and Brown. One of these bore flowers slightly tinged with red and a seedling raised from that plant bore flowers with more petals than normal. Through a repeated process of sowing seed and selection from the seedlings, semi-double forms were obtained and they had eight good double cultivars to propagate and sell by 1803.

Robert Brown made these cultivars available to other nurseries including Robert Austin of Austin & McAslan in Glasgow who bred over 200 new double cultivars by the mid 1820s. An Austin & McAslan list of c.1825 has abbreviated descriptions and provides an indication of the range of colours that was available. Different shades of 'blush' (pink) were the most common, along with white, cream, yellow, red and purple. These colours were combined in cultivars with 'marbled', 'striped' and 'tinged' flowers.

Other British nurseries also raised new cultivars and Lee of Hammersmith in London could offer some 300 by 1830. Growers in France and other parts of Europe also raised new ones, but a smaller number than in Britain.

Some wealthy individuals built up large collections of Scots Roses. The Duke of Bedford had created a Rosarium Scoticum at Woburn Abbey with about 260 different Scots Roses by 1830, and the Duke of Buccleuch had a collection of 150 at Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh. Unfortunately, these collections have not survived.


Decline of interest

Scots Roses began to lose popularity by about 1840. It is generally said that this was due to the introduction of new repeat-flowering hybrid roses but I believe that the loss of some of the champions and main breeders of Scots Roses, such as Robert Austin who died in 1830, contributed to the decline in interest.

By 1874, Shirley Hibberd wrote in The Amateurs Rose Book that 'the varieties are only to be met with in old gardens, as they are all quite out of fashion'. In 1902, Gertrude Jekyll wrote in Roses for English Gardens that 'those who are interested in this class of Rose should inquire in the good old Scotch gardens, where no doubt fine forms still exist that have not come into trade'.

Although the number of Scots Roses commercially available dwindled, some cultivars persisted as cottage garden plants. In Britain, Scandinavia and elsewhere many people retained a special affection for them and their suckers made them easy to share with friends. They achieved special significance in some countries.

In Finland, a double white cultivar is associated with celebrations of midsummer; in Norway and Sweden, a double blush is the 'Husmoderrose' (housewife's rose); and some forms were carried west across 19th century America by settlers, persisting to this day by deserted homesteads.



Although the old cultivars had gone out of fashion by 1900, R. spinosissima was used extensively in rose breeding in the 20th century. In Canada, Dr Frank Skinner (an expatriot Scot) and others raised hybrids that could cope with the extreme cold of Canadian winters. In Germany, Kordes raised the Frühlings cultivars and, more recently, the species has been used as a parent in rose breeding in Finland where Scots Roses and R. spinosissima derivatives are popular.

In Britain, various rose writers have tried to regenerate interest in the old cultivars over the years including Edward Bunyard (1936), Graham Stuart Thomas (1962) and Mary McMurtrie (1998). In Finland, the late Aila Korhonen (2002) and the Finnish Rose Society have published well-illustrated booklets on the Scots Roses and their relatives in that country.


Species involved in the hybrids

A number of natural hybrids have arisen in the wild from crosses between R. spinosissima and other native rose species in Britain and Europe. Other hybrids probably originated in nurseries or gardens as chance crosses between roses from different parts of the world in flower at the same time.

Many of the old cultivars were probably crosses between the normal British small-leaved suckering form of R. spinosissima and the non-native R. pendulina (red flowers) or R. foetida (yellow flowers) or were seedlings of such hybrids. Most 20th century hybrids were man-made crosses involving the taller, larger-flowered form of R. spinosissima from Asia that produced plants that are very different from typical Scots Roses.

Simple hybrids between R. spinosissima and another species may betray their hybrid origin through larger leaves on taller, more upright and less prickly stems, elongated reddish fruits instead of the typical rounded black ones or a scent that is not that of R. spinosissima. While some hybrids resemble one parent, other plants of the same parentage may resemble the other. Complex hybrids may have R. spinosissima characteristics diluted to varying extents.


Naming problems

The naming of R. spinosissima cultivars and hybrids in cultivation is confused and I hope to be able to clarify the situation in a book that I am writing on the history, nomenclature and cultivation of Scots Roses and their relatives. I can only touch on some of the issues in this article.

My research has identified the size of the problem in that I have compiled a list of about 1,000 cultivar names used in books, nursery catalogues and other publications from the 17th century to the present day. Where original descriptions are also available, they provide a basis for checking the naming of those cultivars still in cultivation. I have also been able to use my research to assist with the identification of Scots Roses and their relatives at the Europa-Rosarium at Sangerhausen in Germany, at the Roseraie du Val-de-Marne at l'Haÿ les Roses near Paris, and other gardens. However, it is sometimes easier to say that a rose is not what the label says, than to give it a definitive name!

Many of the small number of Scots Roses that are currently available in commerce have names that are misleading because they are applied to more than one cultivar or they are incorrect. I suspect that this is because such a small number of Scots Roses have been described in rose books published within the last hundred years. This tempts nurserymen and gardeners to apply one of the few published names to the plants in their collections.

Several of the names applied to Scots Roses described in modern rose publications were not used before the 20th century, or were applied to different cultivars in earlier times. However, the practice of giving a new name to an old cultivar may be better than trying to apply an old name incorrectly, or using names such as 'Double White' or 'Double Pink' which are applied to numerous different semi-double and double forms.


Some widely available cultivars and hybrids

These may be divided into:

a) Typical Scots Roses.

b) Cultivars and close hybrids of R. spinosissima that are not typical Scots Roses.

c) Other hybrids of R. spinosissima.


a) Typical Scots Roses

These are roses that have small leaves, close to those of the typical British R. spinosissima, with suckering stems covered with a mixture of prickles and bristles and normally growing up to about 1m tall (sometimes much less). Some are cultivars of the species while others are probably hybrids, or seedlings of hybrids, in which R. spinosissima characters predominate but flower colour may have come from the genes of another species such as R. canina, R. foetida or R. pendulina.

Rosa spinosissima
Plants sold by British nurseries as this species may include the typical British form but also taller growing types that may have been grown from imported seed. Seed-grown plants show considerable variation.



A name applied to several different pink, semi-double and double forms in cultivation. One was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

One of several Rosa spinosissima cultivars in cultivation called 'Andrewsii'



A low growing single white cultivar used for ground-cover plantings in Europe. I have not grown it for long enough myself to be able to be certain whether or not it is a synonym for another cultivar.

Rosa 'Compactilla' growing as groundcover at the Europa-Rosarium, Sangerhausen, Germany


Double Blush, Double Pink and Double White

These names, sometimes styled as cultivar names, are applied to numerous different semi-double and double forms with those colours.

This fine semi-double pink was found by the author in Aberdeenshire, Scotland


Double Yellow and Single Yellow

These names, sometimes styled as cultivar names, are applied to several different yellow variants resembling R. spinosissima in character. They are probably all forms of R. x harisonii or seedlings of it. See R. x harisonii below.


'Dunwich Rose'

Viscount Dunwich's account (1917) describes this rose as having semi-double white flowers with a tinge of yellow - in groups of three. The latter characteristic indicates a hybrid, as the flowers of R. spinosissima are borne solitarily. The single-flowered rose sold under this name is not the original 'Dunwich Rose'.



This is an attractive double shell pink with greyish foliage and one of my favourite roses.


Some Scots Roses such as Rosa 'Falkland' will form an arching shrub if allowed


Marbled Pink

A name applied to several pink single, semi-double and double forms in cultivation, some of which are more marbled in a true sense than others.


A semi-double marbled Scots Rose found by the author near Peebles, Scotland.


'Mary Queen of Scots'

The rose described by Graham Thomas (1962) is a typical Scots Rose with distinctive white / grey buds opening to semi-double purple flowers with white backs to the petals. It tends to flower later in June than the other Scots Roses. It is similar to the rose called 'Bicolor' in the early 19th century and I have not found the name 'Mary Queen of Scots' used before the 20th century. This semi-double rose is quite different from the single rose described by Peter Beales (1997). See 'Mary Queen of Scots' below (under x reversa 'group').


The bicoloured buds of one of the typical Scots Roses known by the name 'Mary Queen of Scots' - not to be confused with the cultivar of Rosa x reversa with the same name.


'Single Cherry'

This is one of my favourite cultivars with its rich cherry-red, single flowers with paler backs to the petals. However, it is not a completely typical Scots Rose. It does have the stems and black fruits of the species but the foliage looks as if another species is involved. It is known as 'Red Nelly' in Europe.


'William III'

This is a name applied to several different deep pink to rich purple semi-double and double cultivars. I have not found the name used before the 20th century.


b) Forms, cultivars and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima that are not typical Scots Roses

Rosa spinosissima 'Grandiflora'
This name covers cultivated variants of R. spinosissima with larger leaves and flowers than those of typical Scots Roses, and includes 'Altaica'. They are also taller growing, often have fewer bristles and have a more upright arching habit than the coastal forms. Some definitely originate in Asia but I believe that other forms may come from parts of inland Europe. Some 'Grandiflora' types may actually be hybrids and I have seen several forms that have a hint of R. foetida in their scent while otherwise looking like R. spinosissima.


Rosa spinosissima 'Hispida'

This name covers a bristly-stemmed group of forms from Asia with larger, more cream coloured flowers than the typical western European form of the species. Plants that I have under this name have very shiny black fruits that are conspicuously broader than long. It has very good autumn colour.


x harisonii 'group'

This name covers hybrids with R. foetida and cultivated variants can have single, semi- double and double flowers. It includes 'Lutea Maxima' (single), 'Harison's Yellow' (double), 'Old Yellow Scotch' (double), 'Williams' Double Yellow' and several other cultivars available in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. Some have a pleasant scent close to R. spinosissima while others have the less pleasant scent of R. foetida.

Some forms of R. x harisonii are so close to R. spinosissima in appearance that they are only immediately distinguishable as R. foetida hybrids by their scent.

Although R. x harisonii is named after George Harison of New York who discovered [or raised it] around 1830, Robert Austin's catalogue of c.1825 indicates that he probably raised such hybrids in Scotland long before 1830 [indeed, a Double Yellow was among the first 'Double Scotch Roses' raised by Robert Brown of Perth by 1803 and that may have been a hybrid with R. foetida].

One of many single and double forms of Rosa x harisonii.

x hibernica 'group'

This name covers hybrids with R. canina and was first recognised in Ireland in the early 19th century, hence the name. One cultivar has fairly large, single, pink flowers and looks more like R. canina than R. spinosissima. However, such hybrids have occurred more than once and there is more than one rose in commerce under the name. Roses of the section to which R. canina belongs produce very different hybrids depending on whether they are the pollen parent or the seed parent and there are probably more Scots Roses with the same parentage but tending towards R. spinosissima.


x reversa 'group'

This name covers hybrids with R. pendulina. They often have smooth or bristly reddish stems with few or no prickles, a taller more upright habit of growth and less suckering. The crimson or pink flowers have a white centre and elongated reddish fruits. Some variants have single, semi- double and double flowers. They start to bloom slightly earlier in the season than other Scots Roses. Most cultivars of R. x reversa tend more towards R. pendulina than R. spinosissima in habit and lack the scent of the latter but, in some, they lean more towards R. spinosissima.


'Glory of Edzell'

This is one of the first Scots Roses to flower in the spring and a well-grown plant gives the appearance of a cloud of pink butterflies when in bloom. The flowers are pink with a 'feathered' star of white. It is probably a cultivar of R. x reversa.


Rosa 'Glory of Edzell' flowers early


'Mary Queen of Scots'

This name was used by Peter Beales (1997) for what seems to be a cultivar of R. x reversa with single pink flowers with irregular, darker pink shading and elongated, deep red fruits. This is quite different from the semi-double purple Scots Rose with this name described by Thomas (1962) which I discuss above. The single-flowered plant is what is normally sold by nurseries under the name 'Mary Queen of Scots', but the Thomas use of the name has priority. Ideally, the name of the single flowered cultivar should be changed. It flowers early, at the same time as 'Glory of Edzell'.


The variant of Rosa x reversa called 'Mary, Queen of Scots' with single flowers is unlike the semi-double typical Scots Rose cultivar of the same name


'Mrs Colville'

This is a name applied to several different single and semi-double cultivars that have rich velvety crimson blooms with white centres. This includes some of my favourite roses, with the glowing colour being particularly striking. These are probably cultivars of R. x reversa, and some tend more towards R. spinosissima in their habit and other characteristics than R. pendulina, while in other cultivars it is the other way round.


One of the Scots Roses known by the name 'Mrs Colville'


This is an early flowering double pink cultivar of R. x reversa raised by Carl Stenberg in Sweden in about 1850. It is named after a Finnish botanist, Dr Poppius.


c) Other hybrids of Rosa spinosissima

There is not sufficient space here to list or describe the large number of hybrids that have R. spinosissima in their genes and many are fairly far removed from Scots Roses. However, some need to be mentioned as they are often listed as Scots Roses (erroneously) or included under the broader term 'Pimpinellifolias'. I divide these into:

1) Species-like hybrids. Mainly simple hybrids (R. spinosissima crossed with another species) but which do not have typical Scots Rose characteristics.

2) Complex hybrids. R. spinosissima crossed with a hybrid rose.


1) Species-like hybrids

'Albert Edwards'

This is a hybrid with R. hugonis and has single flowers of pale yellow. It was raised by Hillier Nurseries, Winchester, in 1938.

'Helen Knight'

This is a hybrid with R. ecae and has single, bright yellow flowers. It was raised by Frank Knight at RHS Garden Wisley in 1966 and named in 1978.

Louis Riel ('Zublou')

This is a attractive hybrid with R. glauca and combines the flowers of R. spinosissima and the bluish purple foliage of R. glauca. It was raised in Canada by Stanley Zubrowski in 1996.

'Ormiston Roy'
This hybrid with R. xanthina 'Allard' has single yellow flowers. It was raised by Doorenbos in the Netherlands in 1938.


2) Complex hybrids

Lochinvar ('Ausbuilder')

Raised by David Austin in 2002, this is a repeat-flowering, double, pale pink R. spinosissima hybrid.

'Paula Vapelle'

This is a repeat-flowering, double white raised in Belgium by Ivan Louette in 2002. It is a hybrid between 'Stanwell Perpetual' and a wild collection of R. spinosissima from Brittany in France.

Robbie Burns ('Ausburn')

Raised by David Austin in 1986, this is a single pink hybrid between 'Wife of Bath' and R. spinosissima.

'Stanwell Perpetual'.
Thought to be a hybrid between R. spinosissima and an autumn Damask, this was supposedly discovered as a self-sown seedling in 1838. It is a repeat-flowering, double with a delicious scent and the pale pink flowers fade to white. It is deservedly popular but rather straggly if its long shoots are not shortened to encourage bushiness.

Rosa 'Stanwell Perpetual' has good scent and delicately coloured flowers that fade from pink to white


Frühlings cultivars

Raised by German rose breeder Wilhelm Kordes, these are complex hybrids with R. spinosissima 'Grandiflora' in their parentage. They include 'Frühlingsgold' (1937), 'Frühlingsmorgen' (1942), 'Frühlingszauber' (1942), 'Frühlingsduft' (1949), 'Frühlingsanfang' (1950) and 'Frühlingsschnee' (1954). They are good garden plants but they have larger flowers, larger leaves and form much larger shrubs than typical Scots Roses.

Rosa 'Frühlingszauber' (foreground) with other Frühlings roses in the background


Canadian hybrids

Raised by Frank Skinner, Percy Wright and others in Canada in the 20th century, these are attractive hardy R. spinosissima hybrids. (eg 'Suzanne') but they are not readily available in Britain and some of their roses may be lost to cultivation. The Saskatchewan Rose Society is trying to rediscover and reintroduce 'lost' Canadian hardy roses.



Scots Roses and their relatives are not particular about soil and will grow in anything from clay to almost pure sand. However, they appreciate some organic matter in the soil when planted, and applied as a top dressing.

Most like full exposure to the sun and will grow more naturally and flower better if not shaded for more than a small part of the day.

They do not require pruning but shoots may be shortened immediately after flowering. If pruning or clipping of typical Scots Roses is done at any other time, you may not get any flowers the following spring. Unwanted suckers can be severed with a spade and removed.

Many Scots Roses and related Pimpinellifolias can be grown in a wild garden without any weeding, pruning or other attention. However, in other parts of the garden, weeds among the stems may be suppressed by the use of mulch or the careful application of dichlobenil (Casoron G) granules in winter [but not every year because it also suppresses the suckers by which the plants develop]. I prefer not to use glyphosate as these roses are very sensitive to it if misapplied.

Typical Scots Roses are generally disease-free but 'Stanwell Perpetual' and cultivars of R. x harisonii can suffer from blackspot and may benefit from application of a suitable fungicide.



The easiest way to propagate Scots Roses is from rooted suckers transplanted or potted up in autumn or winter. However, they can also be propagated from semi-ripe cuttings or hardwood cuttings. In Britain, most commercial growers propagate roses by budding them onto a rootstock but this has a poor success rate with the slender-stemmed Scots Roses.

I prefer roses to be growing on their own roots, so if I obtain budded roses I plant them so that the union between cultivar and rootstock is well below soil level to encourage rooting from the cultivar. If Scots Roses are not grown on their own roots, they can look gaunt and unnatural, have fewer flowers and may deteriorate over a few years.



My work with Scots Roses has involved both academic, library based research into their history, and the study of living collections in Britain and abroad. The National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens awarded my own collection of nearly 300 cultivars and hybrids full National Plant Collection status in 2006.

Gradually, I should be able to make propagating material available to public collections such as the Europa- Rosarium and nurseries that wish to play a part in preserving and disseminating them. I also hope that my collection will act as a resource for DNA analysis, perfume studies and other scientific research that will help to confirm the origin or parentage of cultivated Scots Roses.



Beales, P (1997) Classic Roses. Harvill Press, London

Boyd, PDA (2004) Scots Roses: a new look at an exuberant group of old roses. Historic Rose Journal 28: 2–11 Online at: www.peterboyd.com/ rosapimp3.htm

*Boyd, PDA (2005) Scots Roses for Scottish gardens. The Scottish Garden spring: 10–15

Boyd, PDA (2005) Ein persönlicher Kreuzzug auf der Suche nach Dünenrosen [A personal crusade in search of Scots Roses]. Rosenjahrbuch 2005: 117–129 Online (in English) at: www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp6.htm

Bunyard, E (1936) Old Garden Roses. Country Life, London

Dunwich, Viscount (1917) The Dunwich Rose. Gard. Oct. 13 1917

* McMurtrie, M (1998). Scots Roses of Hedgerows and Wild Gardens. Antique Collectors' Club Ltd, Woodbridge

* Gustavsson, Lars-Åke (1998) Rosor för Nordiska Trädgårdar (in Swedish). Natur och Kultur, Sweden

* Joy, P, Kauppila-Laine, M & Urhonen, E (2004) Pimpinella: Kylämaiseman Ruusu [Finland finds her Scotch Roses] (in Finnish and Swedish). The Santtio Foundation, Uusikaupunki, Finland

* Korhonen, Aila (2002) Juhannusruusu ja Muut Pimpinellat [Midsommarrosen och andra Pimpinellrosor] (in Finnish and Swedish). Suomen Ruususeura RY / Finska Rosensällskapet RF, Finland

Sabine, J (1822) Description and account of the varieties of Double Scotch Roses cultivated in the gardens of England. Trans. Hort. Soc. 4: 281–305

Thomas, GS (1962) Shrub Roses of Today. Phoenix House Ltd, London

* indicates works with extensive illustrations of Scots Roses


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


PETER D. A. BOYD holds a National Plant Collection of Scots Roses and is Collections Manager for Shrewsbury Museums Service, Shropshire.


Contact details:

Peter D. A. Boyd

Collections Manager, Shrewsbury Museums Service, Barker Street, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY1 1QH

Tel: 01743 361196.

E-mail: peterboyd@shrewsbury.gov.uk


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