How rare rose collectors are saving flowers from extinction

By Jessica Jordan, CNN

(CNN) — When you think of roses, you might not think of them as rare. You can easily find commercially grown roses at your local florist or even the grocery store.

But when it comes to unique heirloom roses, there is a world of collectors and curators working hard to keep them alive despite many challenges including trade trends, disease, pests and climate change.

Last weekend, a group of collectors gathered in Southern California to bid on some of America’s rarest roses. Many of the roses auctioned are no longer commercially available – some were offered for the first time in the United States.

This year’s most searched rose was “The Iron Throne”, which sold for $350. “It’s special because it’s not commercially available and it’s a unique color combination,” said John Bagnasco, president of the California Coastal Rose Society and co-chair of Save the Roses. ! project.

The society’s annual auction, which Bagnasco says has been around for 22 years, is one way private collectors are helping to prevent some roses from going extinct.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep roses

Gardeners have always been at the mercy of the weather, but recent drought conditions, water shortages and wildfires have affected some gardens across the country.

“Climate change is making it more difficult to grow roses,” said Steve Singer, owner of Wisconsin Roses. Heat exacerbates the presence of mites and other insects, and roses need lots of water to grow, he explained.

Beth Hana knows firsthand the damage that wildfires can do to roses. Hana moved to Paradise, California in 1989 and her garden had some 1,800 roses before the 2018 campfire broke out.

The fire – the deadliest and most destructive in California history – burned down Hana’s family home, as well as her rugged garden, which included some “really rare” roses. Hana is now rebuilding the garden of her new home in Los Molinos, California, building on the less than 800 roses she was able to save, along with other additions. The garden has over 1,500 roses, but most are potted rather than rooted in the ground.

“It’s going to take years to put them in the ground,” she said.

Trade in roses and preventing their extinction

Several private gardeners not only cultivate rare roses, they also help to preserve them by exchanging them with other collectors.

“If we think we’re the sole owner, we try to get them into someone else’s hands,” said Dianne Wiley, a home gardener from Idaho. “If we lose (a variety) then it could be gone forever.”

Wiley, who grows some 1,400 roses, said she has a few duplicates, but most are of different varieties – and many are rare finds.

In some cases, gardeners and private collectors help people find roses they are particularly looking for. John Millar, owner of Newport House Bed and Breakfast in Williamsburg, Va., contacted Bagnasco about the Joanna Millar rose, named after his now 92-year-old mother-in-law.

“I had the only one in the country and I was able to send him a factory started,” Bagnasco said.

Having the plant means a lot to Millar, who said he thought “the world” of his mother-in-law and noted that having this rose would mean she “lives forever with us”.

Often a rose simply disappears because it is no longer fashionable or in vogue. A rose could have been very popular at one time, explained Art Wade, co-owner of Rose Petals Nursery in Newberry, Florida. “But then, like with a lot of fashions, that particular rose kind of waned and another came in its place.”

Most roses, with a few exceptions, are grown and sold until that rose’s popularity fades.

“Rose companies stop selling roses when sales drop and they disappear,” Singer said. “Every year new roses are developed” and “you can only carry a limited number”.

Some roses are making a comeback

But there are roses that are coming back from the so-called extinction. One example is the “Arnold” rose, which was introduced to the public in 1893 and named for the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, where the rose’s creator worked.

In July 2015, an article published in the Arboretum’s quarterly magazine discussed the history of the rose and how the Arboretum sought “healthy, correctly identified specimens of ‘Arnold'”.

Thanks to someone who was at a 2017 talk given by the author of the article, the Arnold was found.

Anita Clevenger, vice president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, recalled being in the garden of some rose collectors in Santa Rosa, California, when she noticed a “garnet red rose that looked familiar to her.” .

“I read the label and it was ‘Arnold,'” she said. “We were able to trace the provenance enough to believe it was indeed Arnold.”

The rose was eventually propagated for distribution to collectors and nurseries. The Arnold can now be purchased commercially in the United States. Since late October, he has also returned to the Arnold Arboretum, confirmed Michael S. Dosmann, custodian of the arboretum’s living collections.

“It’s incredibly exciting, and it’s been a long time coming,” he said.

“It’s really hard to save history and things that are alive,” said Gregg Lowery, curator of The Friends of Vintage Roses, a California-based nonprofit that aims to preserve and share a collection of nearly 4,000 varieties and species of rare roses. .

Lowery pointed out that individual collectors, nursery collections and institutional collections, which belong to botanical gardens, are three ways roses have been preserved in the past.

As Bagnasco noted, “If the gardeners don’t do it, who will?”

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