The romance of the rose and its alluring fragrance is momentarily forgotten when a prickle imbeds your leg or fingers as you work in the garden. I say prickle, not thorn, because, despite the popularity of poetic quotes on the rose thorn, they are called prickles.
The botanical term for a thorn is; a sharp, strong protrusion that is embedded into the woody structure of a plant’s stem- citrus trees for example. Generally thorns can’t be broken off easily. Whereas a Prickles are said to be smaller outgrowths from a plant’s epidermis- the outer layer- roses. These are easier to break off. Botanists say that not all spiny structures are the same. Spines come from leaf tissue and thorns from stem tissue. Prickles come from neither; they are simply projections from a plant’s skin, or dermal tissue – roses. This resource is a helpful tool if you are still confused.
Prickles may not sound as romantic as the ‘thorn and the rose’ but hurt just as much. My advice is always to wear good gloves and protective clothing when working in a rose garden. Don’t be fooled by smaller rose bushes either, as some of the low growing groundcover roses like The Fairy, although they look innocent enough, have thousands of prickles that snag your clothes and bite into you.
Some varieties of roses have a tendency to leave deeper cuts and scratches than others. It is a good idea to clean the wound up carefully, make sure the prickle is out and be aware of any infection developing because fungus and possible bacteria in rose thorns can cause mild to quite serious infection.
A few of the roses with large thorns in the garden I probably would not have planted had I realised beforehand how prickly they were – Carmagnole, Westerland and New Dawn. Carmagnole, I soon discovered, would need to be moved to a place well away from paths and people as the prickles are ferocious.
Images from Wikimedia.org above from the left are two Albertine roses, Carmagnole and New Dawn. Carmagnole has a beautiful bloom but is described by Delbards as
New Dawn and Westerland are both climbing roses packed with prickles. Silkies rose farm describes New Dawn as a ‘thorny beast’, yet if planted in the appropriate place is beautiful and flowers prolifically. Westerland is an example of a Rambler Rose; a vigorous growing rose best grown on a fence or large frame or as a groundcover or to cover an old shed or water tank because it is too rampant for training on an arch where people are walking past. Ours is growing on an old electricity tower now rusty and vintage-looking that was part of a 32-volt system for the old farmhouse years ago. It had a shed next to it ( still there today as a garden shed) that was the battery shed.
From experience, I am cautious with Shirley’s Rose now, which also has strong prickles and beautiful blooms. To create a natural barrier, Albertine is recommended one of the most thorny roses. Some rose varieties are grown specifically for their thorns such as a unique rose called Rosa sericea subsp. Omeiensis f. pteracantha. This rose has bright red, sawtoothed thorns visible in winter. Another Asian rose are Rugosa roses that have dense thorns on all the stems. Perfect for an impenetrable hedge.
La Jago, pictured below is a regal, unique rose with vibrant colours that range from raspberry to orange and deep pink and when first planted as a bareroot rose it had these substantial dark red prickles, but the stems are upright, so it is easy to manage.
Or is there? Some rose varietals are quite thornless but not entirely; rose growers call them ‘nearly thornless.’ I have grown these roses successfully. They are useful along pathways, over arches and where you and your family may be sitting or children are playing. Although not completely thornless, these varieties are not as harsh or prickly as other roses.
My Review of Nearly Thornless Roses in the garden
- Shropshire Lad– Healthy growth with large, glossy foliage and fruity fragrance. Almost thornless in soft peachy pink; delightful
- Pierre de Ronsard -Old fashioned and has a long season.Perfect as a pillar rose with few prickles
- Nahema – Prone to spider mite but fairly free of thorns and has curled leaves and beautiful pink blooms
- Wollerton Old Hall– Red buds that open to fragrant chalice blooms in soft apricot and cream.
- The Children’s rose– Lovely well shaped bush, gorgeous small pink flowers that have few prickles
- Crepuscule – An absolute delight. Blooms in apricot, copper gold, a no fuss style rose all year.
- China Doll -Semi-double clear pink blooms that cluster prolifically all season
- Coeur de Neige-Delbard Grand Parfume Collection that has elegant stems with white flowers and pink centres.
- Paul Cezanne– My favourite with ruffled blooms of dusty yellow and splashes of pink; gorgeous
- Pink Intuition– Beautiful contrasting pinks in the Delbards painters series
- Lady Hillingdon – Abundant losely cupped shaped blooms very prolific.
- Dioressence– Feminine and fragrant and delightful mauve pinks
- Ebb Tide-Dusky deep purple, dark green foliage
- Fabulous-White fast growing and great for mass planting
- Sweet Intoxication– Upright, bright, fragrant, with glossy leaves and stunning blooms
- Renae – Climbing rose that is smooth to touch, few thorns and likes being in a sheltered spot
- Souvenir de Louis Amade– Old world double blooms, fragrant.
- Franz Libre– Very dramatic rose in fiery orange not too many prickles.
- Climbing Iceberg-Abundance of white single blooms and very reliable rose with light green glossy foliage.
- Climbing Pinkie– An ideal rose with an abundance of pink blooms all season not too prickly
- Heaven Scent- Beautiful soft pink blooms
- Camille Pisarro– Painters series rose with reds, pinks, yellow, creams and white- gorgeous
Other near thornless roses according to Wagner’s Rose Nursery include Reine des Violettes, Kathleen Harrop, Zephirine Drouhin, Alfred Carriere, Cecile Brunner, Eiffel Tower, Grimaldi , Firefighter, Alfred Sisley, Abracadabra, Charles De Mills, Red Intuition, Twilight Zone and Our Vanilla
There is also a brand of roses called Smooth Touch® Thornless Roses 95-100% thorn free. I have not grown these, so I cannot comment on them, but interesting to note that in 1962 a rose enthusiast Harvey Davidson of Western Roses, California, discovered a gene that inhibits the growth of thorns. He developed a variety of thornless roses through inbreeding and outcrossing of his roses. According to Smooth Touch, these roses have a few thorns at times at the base of some branches, but as the plant grows, the thornless gene kicks in, and the remainder of the plant is thorn free.
There is an abundance of roses in Australia to choose from that will not ‘bite’ or scratch that can be planted around the garden and be close enough to admire but not injure children or the gardener. Similarly, there are plenty of thorny, vigorous growing climbing roses and rose bushes to choose from that, if one needs an impenetrable hedge or enclosure, will do the job admirably.
It is a personal matter of choice to manage the prickles balanced with the desire for a perfect rose bloom and fragrance. For me, I am careful, but as the expression says, “Once bitten, twice shy”. I am very respectful of the ones I’ve had nasty scratches from, and I must admit a few are no longer in the garden or are banished to the outer edges. I have learnt the lessons the hard way, and now I read the description in more detail first before purchasing roses.
Content Di Baker 2021
Title quote by Olga Broumas
Images Di Baker or as cited with the exception of Header Image Unsplash