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Peter D. A. Boyd

'Scots Roses' and the French Connection

Peter D. A. Boyd

Web version of

Boyd, P. D. A. 2012b. Scots Roses et la French Connection / 'Scots Roses' and the French Connection. Roses Anciennes en France. Bulletin 18, Autumn 2012. pp. 41-46. [Published in French and English]

Fig. 1. Flowers of wild Rosa spinosissima.

[Further images from original paper to be added shortly]


This article is a very brief introduction to 'Scots Roses' and some of their associations with France. Rosa spinosissima (R. pimpinellifolia) has numerous vernacular names including 'Scots Rose' and 'Burnet Rose' in Britain and 'Rosiers Pimprenelles' or 'Roses Pimprenelles' in France. A legend called the "La Rose Pimprenelle" may suggest that it had special significance in the Ardennes Region.

R. spinosissima is native to many parts of Europe and Asia. It is found near sea-level on sand-dunes, up to over two thousand metres in mountain areas. Cultivated variants and hybrids with a similar form of growth to the northwest European form are also known as 'Scots Roses'. They were most popular in the early 19th century when hundreds of cultivars were raised in Scotland, other parts of Europe and even North America. However, cultivars of the Asian R. spinosissima 'Altaica or 'Hispida, bred mainly in the 20th century, grow taller with larger flowers. Hybrids such as 'Frülingsmorgen' and 'Aïcha are beautiful but they should not be called 'Scots Roses'.

'Scots Roses' are "cheerful' little roses and they have a special character that is very appealing. Although the individual flowers are only about 5 cm (2 inches) across, they are usually produced in such abundance that a single shrub can be spectacular and create a halo of perfume. They like full exposure to sunshine, they are very hardy, they will thrive in poor sandy or stony soils and, when established, they are resistant to drought.

The sweetly scented single white flowers of the wild form are on borne on prickly stems with small leaves and most forms have a spreading suckering habit. However, the flowers are not always white and some wild populations include plants possessing flowers in cream, pink or more intense colours. Some of these colours may arise naturally but many result from pollination with other roses. The colour of stems, bristles, prickles and foliage can also vary. The species has rounded dark purple heps that appear to be black but hybrids may have more elongated red heps.

Selection of seedlings from wild and cultivated forms has given rise to cultivars with single, semi-double and fully double flowers in white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple and mauve including subtle combinations of colour and some with distinct mottled, marbled, striped or veined petals. Some forms also provide spectacular autumn colour in yellows, oranges, reds and purple. 'Scots Roses' flower profusely in April, May, June or July depending on the particular cultivar, whether it is an early or late spring and the latitude or altitude of the garden. If new growth has time to ripen over the summer, they may also have some flowers in the autumn. However, they provide an extended period of interest in the garden with their attractive foliage, which may colour well in the autumn, and their shiny black heps.

Most of the early cultivars and hybrids of R spinosissima were raised in Scotland and England but some cultivars were also raised in France during the 19th century. Very few of the 'Scots Roses' raised in Britain reached the gardens of France because Britain and France were at war (the Napoleonic Wars) between about 1803 and 1815. A small number of 'Scots Rose' cultivars had existed in Britain and France before 1803 but the main period of breeding new 'Scots Roses' took place after the end of hostilities. Robert Austin, one of the most important breeders of 'Scots Roses' in Scotland, could not start breeding the roses seriously until after 1815 because he served as Lieutenant Colonel of a Glasgow Yeomanry Regiment (formed to defend against invasion). A British nurseryman even started a nursery in France at Rouen in 1817. By 1821, Calvert and Co. issued a catalogue of about 900 roses including nearly 50 'Scots Roses'. Calvert imported some cultivars from Britain, some from French nurseries and others he raised himself. Some French nurserymen also bred new R. spinosissima cultivars but not all of them imported 'Scots Roses' from Britain because of their experiences during the conflict.

About 12 cultivars of R. spinosissima were illustrated by Redouté and described by Thory in Les Roses 1817-1824. The French nurseryman Dupont had listed 19 variants or hybrids of R spinosissima in his catalogue of 1813 but the number of cultivars had only increased to about 120 by 1829 in Desportes' Roses cultivées en France. Most of them were raised by Vibert, Prévost and other French nurserymen. Only a few of the cultivars listed originated in Britain although some British nurseries could offer 300 varieties of 'Scots Rose' by that time. Boitard in his Manuel Complet de I'Amateur de Roses (1836) only lists about 65 "Rosiers Pimprenelles'.

'Scots Roses' became less popular after the introduction of repeat-flowering roses and many cultivars had become extinct in Britain or France within a few years of being raised in the early 19th century - although they may have survived for longer - un-named and unrecognised in gardens.

Most named Rosiers Pimprenelles were no longer available by 1894 when Jules Gravereaux started his collection of roses that became the Roseraie de L'Haÿ, near Paris. The catalogue of roses grown in the Roseraie (Les Roses cultivées à L'Haÿ en 1902) only lists about 30 cultivars of R. spinosissima plus a few more forms of Rosa x harisonii (R. spinosissima x R. foetida) and Rosa x reversa (R. spinosissima x R. pendulina). The Roseraie (now known as La Roseraie du Val-de- Marne at L'Haÿ-les-Roses) has preserved a very interesting and important collection of R. spinosissima cultivars, some of which may have survived since 1892 and others that have entered the Roseraie during the last 110 years. I have studied and advised on 'The Pimpi' at the Roseraie since 2006. Several 'Scots Rose' cultivars with veined or marbled flowers are particularly important and may be unique although such variants were popular in the early 19th century. There are also some unusual variants of R. spinosissima 'Altaica. The collection in the Allée des Pimprenelles is currently undergoing refurbishment and development.

Very few 'Scots Roses' are sold by nurserymen today and many of them are misnamed. I have assembled a collection of over 300 cultivars that form my collection (the National Collection) in Britain. I am fascinated by the history of 'Scots Roses', which are now unknown by many gardeners but were so fashionable in the past.

Peter D. A. Boyd


Selective Bibliography

Boitard P. 1836. Manuel Complet de 1'Amateur de Roses.

Boyd P. D. A. 2008. 'Scots Roses' - past and present. OGR & Shrub Journal, American Rose Society. Vol. 4, Issue No. 4.

Boyd P. D. A. 2012. Rosa spinosissima - aspects of its natural history and associations with people from prehistory to the present day. Proceedings of 12th International Heritage Rose Conference, Sakura, Japan June 2012. World Federation of Rose Societies, (including Peter Boyd's version of the traditional folk-tale " La Rose Pimprenelle ").

Calvert and Co. 1821. Catalogue of roses cultivated at Calvert and Company's nursery, Bonne-Nouvelle, Rouen, France. Original in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris).

Desportes N. H. F. 1829. Roses cultivées en France.

Dupont A. 1813. Catalogo inedito Rosarum quas Andreas Du Pont in horto suo studiosè colebat anno 1813. In: Thory, C. 1819. Rosa Candolleana seu description novae specie generis Rosae...

Gravereaux J. 1902. Les Roses cultivées à L'Hay en 1902.

Lemonnier D. 2003. The Calvert Catalogue. Historic Rose Journal. No 26. Autumn 2003.

Mayland-Quellhorst E., Fôller J. and Wissemann V. 2012. Biological Flora of the British Isles: Rosa spinosissima L. J. Ecology, vol. 100-2, pp. 561-576.

McMurtrie M. 1998. Scots Roses of hedgerows and wild gardens.

Redouté P. J. and Thory C. A. 1817-1824. Les Roses.

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


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May 3rd 2016