Everyone can recognise a rose, but here is one that most people would walk past and not even notice. Unlike most roses it has no fragrance and even lacks petals. Yet I am very pleased to have it in the garden. I admires its freakishness even though when I show it in all its glory, the retort is usually ‘Is that it?’
It is believed that this rose is a sport of the China ‘Old Blush’ and arose before 1743 and was introduced to cultivation by Bembridge and Harrison, in the UK, in 1856. You can imagine how fortuitous the timing was because the Victorians with their love of evergreen, ferns and curiosities must have adored this. I can imagine Miss Havisham holding a bunch of these.
Unlike most roses, this rose has no petals and instead there are multiple rows of sepals, the green leafy structures that protect flowers in bud. This is called phyllody and it is not actually that rare in roses. Many ‘old’ roses have green button centres where there are leafy structures where there should be petals or stamens.
If you like it enough to grow it, this is an easy rose to please, reaching about 1m high and across. Like all Chinas it is not the hardiest of roses but OK in most UK and Irish conditions. It prefers a sunny, warm spot. The flowers start the same green as the leaves, slightly paler on the reverse of the sepals and they develop reddish bronze colouring as they age. The flowers last for weeks, which is a blessing if you cut them for the house or a disappointment if you think they are ugly.