The perennial thorny problem of thorns…

Thornless roses?

The thing roses are possibly the most famous for, other than their beauty and perfume, is their evil thorns. They are often the first thought amongst non rose lovers and put a lot of people off growing them altogether. And there’s no doubt, they are a proverbial pain in the ……

However, all things are not made equal in the rose world, being such a huge and widespread genus, they come in all shapes and sizes. There is at least one genus, rosa banksia, that is 100% thornless, and others i.e. the multifloras and gallicas which are generally not very vicious. Because most of the roses we grow today are complex mixtures of many different genus, the thorniness levels vary drastically, even within types.

Therefore we have bourbons well armed with large, apparently evil thorns, like Souvenir de la Malmaison and Mme Lauriol de Barney and on the other hand the virtually thornless Zepherine Drouhin and her sport Kathleen Harrop.

one of ken nobbs multiflora x ramblers which has bristles not thorns

The multifloras are a gentle family, usually only sporting bristles and maybe some small thorns under the leaves, and these have produced families of very low thorn roses, the polyanthas and the multiflora ramblers. (Our own Ken Nobbs specialised in hybridising these) and also the modern thornless series of floribundas, which I don’t know much about, but know they exist.(Smooth Prince etc)

However, despite these gentle souls amongst the roses, in general it’s all about how bad the thorns/prickles are, and not about whether they have them or not.

Francine in flower hiding her armoury
Francine’s evil downcurved thorns

I often consider the less thorny models which just have a few recurved thorns the most dangerous, as you get tricked into a false sense of security when they’re not so obvious. Now you couldn’t fail to notice the thorns on a rugosa or pimpinellifolia cos they’re absolutely covered in them, and some of the centifolias aren’t far behind. The ramblers are often pretty evil, especially if they’re in the evergreen wichuriana family. These roses like most climbers, are designed to scramble through undergrowth and up into trees to find the sun, so thorns are obviously a necessity here.

cuttings of topaz jewel
many fingers were pricked in the making of this movie

All in all, if your life involves roses, it involves getting scratched/pierced. Especially so if you happen to base your business on growing roses from cuttings! This involves extreme amounts of scratching/piercing on a daily basis ! And I can tell you, trying to push thin sticks covered wall to wall with long sharp prickles into pots of sand is a difficult and usually slightly painful procedure! To date, Topaz Jewel (yellow rugosa) wins the competition for most difficult rose to make cuttings of (and I bet they all die anyway…)

So, out of interest, we are compiling a list of less vicious roses for those of you who care more about their skin and clothing…

Thornless roses

Comptesse du Cayla which like some of the china x es has mostly thornless stems

Here’s the start, chosen from roses we grow and endeavour to sell.

  • Rosa banksia normalis-very vigorous climber,masses of white scented flowers in Spring. 0 thorns
  • Rosa banksia lutea-yellow relly of above but in yellow.0 thorns
  • Banksia Purezza-white hybrid from above that repeats throughout spring/summer.0 thorns
  • Rosa multiflora– wild rose with bunches of tiny white flowers followed by tiny red hips. 0 thorns to speak of
  • Zepherine Drouhin and Kathleen Harrop-dark and light pink climbing bourbons 0 thorns
  • Mme Sancy de Parabere – pink boursault climber 0 thorns
  • Ausonius – pink and white hybrid musk, just a few bristles
  • Reine des Violettes – purple hybrid perpetual, 0 thorns
  • Comptesse du Cayla- orange/pink china x. very few thorns
  • Vielchenblau – purple multiflora rambler, very few thorns
  • Pinkie-bright pink climber, only a few small thorns under leaves
  • de la Grifferie – hybrid gallica, mauve pink-only occasional straight thorns
  • Ispahan – pretty pink damask-has lots of thornless arms and a few thorny ones!
  • Sylvan Beauty- china red climber, ditto of above

Cornelia-apricot pink hybrid musk, the least thorny of Pemberton’s roses, only afew harmless ones