Rosa graciliflora (slender stalked rose)
Rosa graciliflora is a pink- or red-flowered wild rose that is native to China; the solitary flower has a characteristic long and slender pedicel (stalk).
About this species
Rosa graciliflora is one of 65 Rosa species that are restricted to China. This pink- or red-flowered rose blooms from July to August and fruits are produced from September to October. R. graciliflora belongs to Rosa section Pimpinellifolia, a group represented in Britain by the burnet rose (Rosa spinosissima), a common rose found near the sea and characterised by its black fruits.
Wild or ‘species’ roses differ from the cultivated roses we are familiar with, in that their flowers mostly have ‘single’ flowers with five petals rather than ‘double’ ones with many petals . Only a a small number of these wild roses are the source of the thousands of cultivars that are enjoyed around the world today; however the slender stalked rose is not one of those parent species.
Geography & Distribution
Native to China (Sichuan, Xizang (Tibet), Yunnan), where it has been found between 3,300 and 4,500 m.
A small, erect shrub with slender branchlets, growing up to 4 m tall. The sparse, fine prickles are up to 1 cm long and flare abruptly into a broad base. The leaves are 5-8 cm long and bear stipules (leaf-like appendages) that are fused with the petiole (leaf stalk). Each leaf is formed of 9-11 leaflets with toothed margins. The flowers are solitary, 2.5-3.5 cm in diameter, and have five entire (undivided), leaf-like sepals and five pink or deep red petals. The flowers have a spicy scent. The fruit is a red hip of 2-3 cm with persistent erect sepals. Hips are the characteristic fruit of the genus Rosa, scientifically called a pometum, and consist of a swollen hypanthium closed at the mouth and containing free achenes with their styles and stigmas protruding.
Hips are the characteristic fruit of the genus Rosa. Images above: Left – an immature hip with stigmas protruding; Middle - section of an immature hip with ovules visible; Right – an immature hip (Images: RBG Kew, Living collection Virtual Herbarium)
Roses and Valentine’s Day traditions
Herbarium specimen of Rosa graciliflora collected by Tony Kirkham in China, 2001 (Image: RBG Kew)
Rose cultivation began in ancient Babylonia and Assyria and was passed on through later civilisations to Europe. Roses were grown for their beauty and scent, to infuse rose-water and rose-oil, and later for medicinal and horticultural purposes.
Although Saint Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in some form since 500 AD, and roses have been identified with love since the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was not until the second half of the 20th Century that the giving of gifts such as roses on 14 February became common practice.
The traditional Valentine’s verse ‘Roses are red’ can be traced back to:
She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.
The Faerie Queene (1590) – Edmund Spenser
The rose is red, the violet's blue
The honey's sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.
Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784)
Rosa graciliflora is one of more than 1,000 plant species collected in China at the beginning of the 20th Century by Ernest “Chinese” Wilson (1876-1930). It is occasionally planted as an ornamental shrub, and has been grown at Kew from seeds collected in Sichuan by Tony Kirkham, Kew’s Arboretum Manager.
Rosa graciliflora stem (Image: RBG Kew)
In March, the roses cultivated at Kew are pruned back into a framework with all the old, dead, diseased and damaged wood removed. A granular fertiliser is then applied to the rose beds to help to promote healthy new growth after pruning. The beds are mulched at this time of year, using farmyard manure, doubling up as mulch and fertiliser.
April sees the first foliage feed application, containing a high potassium content to increase flower production. At the same time, a programme of pesticide and fungicide spraying is started and performed throughout the growing season whenever pests and diseases begin to show, such as black spot, mildew, aphids and thrips.
At the end of autumn the roses are cut back by approximately one-third to reduce wind rock.
This species at Kew
Rose pergola at Kew Gardens (Image: Catherine Rutherford)
Buy pink glass rose earrings from the Kew Shop.
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