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In the broad field of rose culture, past and present, a big question mark stands out. Why is it that the Moss Rose was so universally popular, present in every garden, over a hundred years ago, yet so seldom seen in gardens today? Many a present day rose grower has never seen one. Many more little of the usefulness and the charm of this type of rose.

The Moss Rose is either a sport or a seed variation of Rosa centifolia, that rose species to which the old Cabbage Rose belongs. This Cabbage Rose, that suddenly appeared clothed in its mossy raiment, seems first to have been formally recognized by plantings in the famous botanical garden at Leiden, Holland in 1720. Some authorities assert that it was growing in France, Italy, or England at a much earlier date, even as far back as 1596.

Not until the middle of the last century did the Moss Rose come into its own, when, for many years, it ranked high in popularity and won first place in the affections of rose lovers. At one time, there were over four hundred varieties of this special rose grown. Then, once again it fell out of favor.

The Moss Rose gains its name from the fact that its calyx and sepals, its stem and often its leaflets, are clothed with a more or less thick covering of bristly “moss”. The oldest varieties have the most moss. The results of hybridization have been to partly eliminate this characteristic. How this moss appeared only Mother Nature can say.

It is more than time for us to increase our appreciation of the old-fashioned roses, including the Mosses, because they have learned the hard way how to build up a natural resistance to rose diseases. This rose has been known to grow, bloom, and flourished without the benefit of spray or dust, or use of commercial fertilizer. This is a quality of special appeal to rose enthusiasts. The Moss Rose, therefore, definitely has a place today in the organic garden. It is tremendously resistant, long-lived, easy to grow, tolerant of neglect — almost making it the perfect rose.

All the old Moss Roses bear double flowers and, in varying degrees, all have the delightful, memory-recalling old-time fragrance of the Centifolia or Cabbage Roses. They are of shrubby habit, making strong, shapely bushes, some varieties up to five foot or more in height if left to grow naturally. Generally speaking, the Moss Rose is a seasonal flower, at its best in early summer, but a few varieties will recur in autumn if given special cultivation.

Moss Roses are very hardy. There are few parts of our country where they cannot be grown successfully. It is difficult to prescribe exact cultural directions, for climatic conditions modify them greatly.  For example, in California, and other mild climate zones, Moss Roses flourish best if treated as native shrubs. Regardless of where they are growing, always give them a sunny spot and not too rich a soil, leave them alone, and they will reward you with a profusion of bloom. However, plant them under the conditions of a highly cultivated rose garden and they seem to resent the attention.

Master gardeners differ in the matter of pruning the Moss Rose. Climate dictates this as it does with most roses. If you live where there are severe winters, you may have to prune more than other climates.  In more temperate regions, less pruning works best.

To my way of thinking, the best kinds of roses, are the oldest. Sometimes, in gardening, you’ll ready about the most tantalizing glowing descriptions of a rare flower, only to learn that it virtually unprocurable. The following are the most desirable Moss Roses of the Old World varieties:

  • Old Pink Moss (R. muscosa communis) — Believed to be the original of all Moss Roses, is rose-pink, intensely fragrant, buds and stems thickly moss-covered.
  • Salet — Introduced in 1854, similar to the Old Pink Moss, but branched in clusters with a deep pink center. It is flatter when fully opened, equally fragrant, but the same shade of pink. It even sometimes blooms recurrently.
  • Old Red Moss - The calyx, sepals and stem are thickly moss-covered. The very fragrant flower is flat and of deep carmine red.
  • Henri Martin — Introduced in 1863 is the most brilliant of all red Moss roses. The flower, of goodly size, being of a shining crimson-red that holds its color to the end without “bluing.” Its bud is the last word in rose beauty in my opinion. A profuse and persistent bloomer and richly fragrant.
  • Old White Moss— In the confusion of Moss Rose nomenclature, this is hard to identify. It’s believed to be of 1810 vintage. The flowers are large, fairly double, pure white, very fragrant. The buds are well mossed. Many Moss Rose lovers believe that these do not bloom as freely as the pink or red ones.
  • Blanche Moreau — Originated in 1880, when true to the name, bears a large white flower in clusters on a long stem that is fragrant and very double. Sometimes these bloom intermittently through the summer.

These are but a few of the Old World Moss Roses worthy of mention. I’m hoping that if you are reading this article, you’ll consider making sure that the old Moss Roses will again come into the favor that it so deserves. No other rose possesses more distinctive qualities or links so well the fondest memories of the past with the utility demands of our gardens today.


If You’d Like To Know More About Growing Moss Roses

How To Grow and Care For Moss Roses

 Moss Roses

 Moss Roses Portulaca

 Heirloom Roses