As Valentine’s Day approaches, romance is on our minds. And what flowers are more romantic than roses? Red roses have become the icon of love and romance, but there are so many other varieties that are equally meaningful. For example, purple roses signify enchantment and love at first sight, while orange roses exemplify passion.
With over 150 species of roses and thousands of hybrids, roses can be found in nearly every color and a variety of shapes. To show you just how expansive the rose family is, we created a compendium of popular garden roses containing over 100 different types of blooms.
Though there is no single definitive way to categorize roses, most specialists divide them into three main categories: Wild Roses, Old Garden Roses, and Modern Garden Roses. The latter two groups are subdivided further according to hybrid and lineage. Below we detail each of the main categories and the classes within them.
Modern Garden Roses
Modern Roses are those varieties bred after 1867. Most people imagine these types when they think of roses. Classification of Modern Roses can be complicated because many have Old Garden Roses in their ancestry, but they are largely classified by growth and flowering characteristics. Unlike Old Garden Roses which bloom once a year, Modern Roses bloom continuously. They also have a larger bloom size and longer vase life, but lack fragrance, and are less hardy and disease resistant.
Although climbing roses do not actually climb like vines do, they have stiff, upright canes that can be manually trained along a support. Some canes can reach upwards of fifteen feet. Climbing roses produce more flowers when grown horizontally rather than vertically. They are commonly attached to walls, fences, and trestles. They tend to have large flowers and are almost always repeat bloomers.
English / David Austin Roses
Although not officially recognized as a separate class, David Austin—sometimes called English—roses are highly popular among consumers and retailers. David Austin started breeding roses over 50 years ago with the goal of creating a new group of roses that featured the best characteristics of both Old and Modern Roses. The hundreds of varieties of David Austin roses have the rosette form and heady fragrance of Old Roses with the repeat flowering capability and wider color range of Modern Roses. Despite their popularity, they are susceptible to disease and not as hardy as other varieties.
Floribunda roses are a cross between a Hybrid Tea and Polyantha roses. Each stem produces a cluster of large blossoms in the classic Hybrid Tea shape. Floribundas can be found in a variety of colors including orange, yellow, pink, purple, and white. They are generally disease resistant and tend to be hardy and easy to care for. These roses are known for their stocky, rigid shrubbery, and often used in landscaping in public parks and spaces.
Grandiflora roses are a class that was created in the last century to classify crosses between Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses that fit neither category. They are a combination of the graceful blooms of the Hybrid Teas and the repetitive growth cycle of Floribundas. Grandiflora roses have large, showy flowers that are produced on long stems, either singly or in clusters of three to five blooms. Their shrubs are generally larger and more upright than Hybrid Teas. Although hardy and vigorous, they tend to be less popular than Hybrid Teas or Floribunda roses.
Also known as “landscape” roses, this type of rose was developed to fulfill the desire for a garden rose that offers color, form, and fragrance, but is also easy to care for. They tend to reach max height at three feet, though some only grow as tall as one foot, and are usually wider than they are tall. Typically groundcover roses are disease and pest-resistant, repeat flowering, low growing, and low-maintenance.
Hybrid Tea Roses
Hybrid Tea roses have been the favorite of the Modern Roses, and come in a very diverse range of colors. They are known for their long, upright stems, which make them an extremely popular cut flower. Hybrid tea roses have large, well-formed, pointed blooms, which can be up to five inches in diameter. They are the least hardy of modern roses and have a reputation for being high-maintenance.
Miniature roses are miniature versions of Hybrid Tea roses. They have petite stems, leaves and flowers, and are hardy and versatile plants. Miniatures come in a wide range of colors including pink, orange, white, and yellow. Most miniature roses bloom continuously for two to three weeks at a time. They are often marketed and sold as houseplants, as they grow well in containers and are only six to eighteen inches tall. They also work well in narrow borders and small garden areas.
Polyantha roses are known for their prolific bloom—from spring to fall a healthy plant could potentially be covered in flowers. They typically have large clusters of small flowers, and come in shades of white, pink and red. Polyantha roses remain popular due to their reputation as low-maintenance, disease-resistant, and hardy plants. They are ideal candidates for containers or small gardens.
Rambling roses, or ramblers, are vigorous growers with numerous clusters of small to medium-sized blossoms, and long, flexible canes. They are often once-blooming, but may also be repeat or continuous bloomers. If they lack a support system, ramblers will grow along the ground and cover anything in their way, such as buildings, cars, plants, and trees. But if well trained, ramblers may be used to decorate structures such as arches and pergolas.
Shrub roses include a wide variety of roses that do not fit into any other category. Many are a cross between Old Garden Roses and Modern Roses, and combine traits from each. Generally, they are hardy, easy-care plants. Bloom style may be single, cabbage-like or anything in between, and fragrance level varies. Most shrub roses are repeat bloomers, and their growth is generally graceful and spreads easily.
Old Garden Roses
Old Garden Roses, sometimes called heritage or historic roses, are a traditional class of roses bred before the arrival of the hybrid tea rose in 1867. These roses are known for their strong fragrance, high petal count, bloom shape, disease resistance, and ability to withstand the cold. They generally bloom once a year during the summer months.
Alba roses are hybrids that are some of the oldest garden roses, dating back to before 100 A.D. They have tall, elegant bushes with lovely blue-green foliage and white or pale pink blossoms. Alba roses bloom once in late spring or early summer and are among the hardiest of roses—they are disease-resistant, low-maintenance, and can tolerate shade and cold conditions.
Most likely a cross between Damask and China roses, Bourbon roses were first introduced in France on the Île Bourbon in 1817. They have lovely full blooms in various shades of pink, white and red, and often have an intense and heady fragrance. Bourbon roses typically have very few thorns or none at all. They can be trained to climb, and are repeat-bloomers.
Centifolia roses are known as Cabbage roses, as their blooms are closely packed with many thin, overlapping petals that resemble the head of a cabbage. They may also be called Provence roses after the section of France where they were once grown. Colors range from white to pink, and the blooms often droop or nod due to their large size. Because these roses are so fragrant, they are often used in the fragrance industry. Centifolia roses bloom once in early summer, thrive in full sun and are typically less disease-resistant than other varieties.
Introduced to the West in the late 18th century, China roses are a complex group that have contributed greatly to the parentage of today’s hybrid roses. They are typically fragrant and have smaller, more compact blooms compared to other varieties. China roses come in multiple colors and bloom repeatedly in summer and late fall. The plants are somewhat tender and may need protection in colder climates, but most are very disease-resistant.
Originating in Biblical times, Damask roses are some of the oldest roses in the world. There are two groups of Damasks: the Summer Damask, which blooms once in summer, and the Autumn Damask (also called the four seasons damask), which blooms in the summer and has a second flowering in fall. These roses come in a variety of colors from white to deep pink and have very fragrant blossoms that are often used in the perfume industry.
Gallica roses are one of the oldest species with some varieties dating back to the 12th century, and have long been prized for their medicinal properties and lovely scent. They are sometimes referred to as French or Provins roses. Gallica roses come in shades of pink, red, purple, and may even be striped. Some varieties are intensely fragrant. They bloom once during the summer, and are tolerant of shade and cold.
Hybrid Musk Roses
Although Hybrid Musk roses are not officially considered Old Garden Roses, they tend to be grouped with them. They were mostly bred by the Rev. J. Pemberton early in the twentieth century. These roses have single flowers with five petals in clusters, and have a strong musk-like scent that is light and sweet. Hybrid Musk roses also have healthy, lustrous, and bushy foliage, and tend to be disease-resistant.
Hybrid Perpetual Roses
Although they were ultimately overshadowed by their descendants, the Hybrid Teas, Hybrid Perpetual roses became the most popular rose in the world among gardeners and florists in the nineteenth century. They are known for their lovely scent and ability to repeat bloom. Hybrid Perpetuals have very large blossoms with a strong fragrance and come in shades of pink, purple, red, and sometimes white.
Hybrid Rugosa Roses
Hybrid Rugosa roses are a very hardy species rose from Northern Japan, China, Korea, and Siberia. Although not officially considered Old Garden Roses, they tend to be grouped with them. They have rich, green foliage, a lovely fragrance, and tend to be disease-resistant. Their small, simple blossoms have a limited color palette and are best enjoyed on the bush, as they’re not the classic rose blossom form.
Named for the moss-like growth covering the top of their stem, Moss roses are very fragrant and come in a wide array of lovely rose colors. They are known for the pleasant scent of woods or balsam they emit when rubbed, and are cherished for this trait. Their shrub-like plants are primarily grown for their exceptional beauty. Moss roses are once-bloomers and their hardiness varies.
Descending from the China rose, Noisette roses were the first roses to be bred in America with the aid of John Champney, a rice farmer in Charleston, South Carolina. Noisettes are historically important for contributing hues of orange and yellow to Old Garden Roses. They bear fragrant clusters of blooms in a wide range of colors and have tall, bushy plants. Most are continual or repeat bloomers.
This group of roses was named after the Duchess of Portland after she was given a rose that produced the whole class of Portland roses. At one time there were dozens of varieties, but today only a handful remain. Some may have a strong fragrance, and the flowers tend to have very little stem so that the leaves are closely packed around the flowers. They mainly flower in the summer, but may also continue to flower into the fall.
Originating in China and one of the only parents of the modern Hybrid Tea rose, Tea roses are named for their fragrance that is reminiscent of Chinese black tea. They have a wide range of colors including white and pastel shades of pink, yellow, and apricot. The blooms are large and fragrant with a delicacy of form and color not found in today’s roses. Their petals tend to roll back at the edges, producing middle petals that have pointed tips. Tea roses are repeat-flowering and disease-resistant.
Species roses are wild roses that include natural species that haven’t been hybridized. They are very hardy plants that survive on minimal maintenance, and are often characterized by five-petal flowers that bloom in early summer. Many species of roses grow quite large, and may even form thickets. Wild roses can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and their fossil records go back nearly 30-40 million years!
The vastness of the rose family can be overwhelming. At first glance, many roses look the same, but upon further inspection, you can really begin to tell the difference between the shape and structure of each bloom. For example, the Species Roses have a loose five-petal structure, while the Gallica roses have layered, tightly clustered petals. To help you understand each category and class better, we created a compendium of popular garden roses that lets you directly compare each type of rose.
Breath of Life, Cécile Brünner, Charles de Gaulle, Cramoisi Superieur, Earth Song, Honorine de Brabant, Princesse Joséphine-Charlotte, Queen of Sweden, Rose de Meaux, Rosa nutkana, Sunset Memory, St. Cecelia, CC Image courtesy of T.Kiya on Flickr
Crested Moss, Duchesse de Brabant, Graham Thomas, Hansa, Louis Philippe, Marchesa Boccella, Mutabilis, Paul Neyron, Queen Elizabeth, Reine Des Violettes, Rose du Roi, Rosa moschata, St. Nicholas CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr
Duchess of Portland, Felicia, Général Jacqueminot, Hebe’s Lip, Koeniging von Danemark, La Reine Victoria, Madame Pierre Oger, Parson’s Pink China, Rosa foetida, Safrano, Semi-plena, Soleil d’ Or, York & Lancaster, Zéphirine Drouhin CC Image courtesy of A. Barra on Wikimedia Commons
Kiftsgate CC Image courtesy of Ulf Eliasson on Wikimedia Commons
Rosa pimpinellifolia CC Image courtesy of Velela on Wikimedia Commons