Stable sports can be great roses.

Many of us of us have purchased a perennial or shrub that was striped or ornamental in another unusual way, only to have it, over time, revert to the possibly much less interesting parent of the plant that was often expensively purchased. Sometimes the cause is the exposure of the graft union, but in this case we are addressing genetic mutations. In the case of a genetic mutation, it may be a positive or a negative phenomenon. Over the years, there have been numerous positive consequences.

For example, if a plant produces a stem that represents a different plant than you purchased, and that revision is attractive, as well as stable, you may then have a completely new plant to enjoy in your garden. And if the original plant is a healthy one, this can be a desirable occurrence. A nectarine, for example, is actually the stable sport of a peach. There are gardeners who have actually marketed stable mutations that are cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, or otherwise transformed plants. And yes, if you discover a stabilized sport of another rose you can patent it.

This changeling phenomenon has happened quite often with roses. A classic case of this is David Austin's 'Mary Rose', which is dark pink. Two sports appeared: 'Winchester Cathedral', which is white, and 'Redoute', which is a soft pink.



David Austin himself believes that 'Redoute' is the most beautiful of the three. Austin's legendary 'Heritage' sported to a white rose he named 'Rose Marie'. I own both of these roses, and although they are recent, for me none of the sports have shown any signs of reverting to the parent (although it is possible). Time will tell.

There is also a striped 'Mary Rose' and a striped 'Winchester Cathedral', but my impression from my research is that the jury is out on whether these are stable or in the process of reverting to the original rose. The fact that David Austin himself does not market them makes me doubt that they are stable. Peter Schneider, the author of 'Right Rose, Right Place", and the Combined Rose List (which lists the supplier and availability of every rose in commerce) seems to indicate that that is his belief that the striped versions are not stable, by noting that David Austin himself has never formally acknowledged the striped versions. The striped ones do, however, circulate among collectors. Because these are usually unstable sports, the variation will not be exhibited after they are propagated, so they cannot be patented.

There are many roses that have sported and remained stable for hundreds of years. This can create great fun for the avid rose grower, because if the plants behave similarly it is possible to acquire more than one with the certainty that it will behave more or less like the parent.

One of the most famous old roses, still widely available although it was hybridized in 1868, is Bourbon rose 'Zephirine Droughin.'

Rose Zephirine Drouhin

'Zephirine' has two sports, the first being 'Kathleen Harrop', which was introduced in 1909.

Rose Kathleen Harrop

The other is 'Martha', which is paler still than 'Kathleen Harrop'. Introduced in 1912, it is very difficult to find. I have read that 'Zephirine' is the most vigorous, but I have found that 'Kathleen', below, has at least as much vigor as Zeph (as I like to call her), if not more so. Interestingly the three roses are attributed to three different hybridizers, one French, one British and the third Danish.

Rose Kathleen Harrop

Perhaps the rose most famous for its many sports is 'Peace', a hybrid tea rose developed by Meilland in 1942, but introduced in 1945. The story behind this rose is legendary. The hybridizer developed the rose just before World War II, and concerned about its future, sent cuttings to several countries. It was introduced under several names because of the manner of the distribution of the cuttings, but the name 'Peace', utilized by Conard Pyle, had the most staying power. 'Peace' sported like mad, producing some very fine roses including 'Climbing Peace' and 'Chicago Peace'.

The original plant has a great deal of yellow in it:


'Chicago Peace' is more pink.


Another more recent sport is 'Prairie Snowdrift', which is a sport of 'Morden Blush'. It is identical to the earlier rose except for the color, and has the same vigor and hardiness of its parent.

Here is 'Morden Blush'.

Morden Blush

Here is a very young 'Prairie Snowdrift' from last season.

Rose Prairie Snowdrift

There are also roses that sport by climbing. 'Iceberg' has a climbing sport, as has 'Gruss an Aachen'. This is the shrub version of 'Gruss an Aachen'. The climbing version, according to individual growers on the web, is about ten feet.

Shrub rose Gruss an Aachen

One of the most famous roses in the world, 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', not only has a climbing sport, introduced in 1893, that is 8 to 12 feet tall, but two well known shrub sports, 'Souvenir de St. Anne', a 3 feet by 3 feet rose introduced in 1950, and the white 'Kronprinzessin Viktoria', introduced in 1847, and is 4 feet by 3 feet. I have read that there are possibly as many as six sports of this rose. The parent plant is a greatly sought after pink, fragrant, long blooming plant with one major flaw - in damp climates it "balls", a condition in which the flower bud develops normally but does not open. A phenomenon of damp, cool climates, it causes water to saturate the outer petals, and when followed by sunshine dries them into a papery shell, and they are fused shut. In dry climates it is one of the most magnificent of roses. In a damp climate, it has been described to me as a slimy mess.

Here is 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'.


Here is 'Souvenir de St. Anne'. It is less double, and therefore less prone to balling:


'Kronprinzessin Viktoria' is a white version of 'Souvenir de St. Anne'.

I have found great enjoyment in growing the sports of roses that have performed well for me. I hope that you will explore the sports of your roses - or start collecting them - and enjoy the variations.

Images courtesy of myself and PlantFiles