THE DEBUT OF THE HYBRID CHINAS
Brent C. Dickerson
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." --Abraham Lincoln.
Hybrid Chinas are members of an influential group of roses arising from crosses between true China roses and the various once-blooming old European roses such as Gallicas, Centifolias, Damasks, and Albas, the crosses resulting in once-blooming progeny. Though poorly known today--so poorly indeed that some have sought to commandeer their name to use for repeat-blooming roses, and to annihilate their very identity by assimilating them into the Gallica class--they were much beloved by exhibitors during the Victorian era, who would vie with each other in exercising their utmost rosarian skills to produce blooming potted specimens of an extravagant perfection; but yet more importantly, they played a vital role at the very center of mainstream rose progress in being one of the principal progenitors of the Hybrid Perpetuals, which in turn co-parented the present predominant race in rosedom, the Hybrid Teas. In terms of groupings, then, Hybrid Chinas are thus a grandparent of our familiar modern roses! Rather than to stick Granny into the attic and forget about her, let us rather bring her downstairs among us and honor her by reviewing the very first members of the group, through 1820.
As we have seen in a previous article ("The First Eighteen Chinas"), true China (as opposed to Hybrid China) seedlings began to appear with increasing frequency particularly from about 1812 onwards. The introduction of a single China ('Simple') around 1811 no doubt facilitated this increase, though breeders also would have been able to make use of the several semi-double or incompletely full Chinas already available in Europe as well as in America. As to the non-China parent of any particular Hybrid-China-producing cross, quite a panoply of old European roses was available, as these were the glory days of the Gallicas, Centifolias, etc. Gallicas were notoriously fecund, Albas and Damasks fecund without the notoriety, Centifolias problematical--except that, even with the Centifolias, there were opportunities for cross-breeding, especially with the appearance on the scene of two from Dupont of Paris, the single 'A Fleurs Simples' by 1804, and the nearly single 'La Louise' by 1810. As horticulturists gained experience with the particularities of growing Chinas in the 18-Teens, then, the time was ripe for outcrossing them to the common garden roses of the time, these old European roses.
What were hybridizers looking for in crossing Chinas with the European once-bloomers? That great blind aid to human progress, sheer curiosity, no doubt played its part. Those who had more focused intentions, however, were no doubt on the one hand seeking to create more hardy Chinas, and, on the other, reblooming European types. This was to be a dream deferred! The roses which resulted from these crosses were not hardy versions of the twiggy Chinas; nor were they reblooming versions of the lush sturdy European sorts. They were *sui generis*. As Boitard, writing in 1836, would describe them, "These roses bloom only once a year. Ordinarily, their canes are long and straight, sometimes climbing; they have five to seven leaflets; their styles are free; their calyx tube is quite variable." Their great qualities were, and still are, their enormous hybrid vigor, and their wonderful floriferousness during their season of bloom. But who would be the first to breed and introduce this new race?
We know Monsieur Ecoffay of St.-Cloud and Sevres, France, for giving us one of the greats in old rosedom, the Damask Perpetual 'Rose du Roi' (circa 1816, possibly pre-1810). In 1814, he offered a harbinger of a new age in rosedom in which the best of the Orient and the best of the Occident were brought together; and he doubled its significance by naming it after a then little-known Parisian enthusiast who, a few years later, would go into business for himself and become one of the greatest figures in rose history. In 1814, Ecoffay introduced the first Hybrid China, named 'Vibert'. Descriptions of these early hybrids are rare and scanty. In 1826, Louis Noisette records this rose as "large, double, deep crimson." Desportes, in 1828, tells us again about its "deep crimson" color. Prevost fils, a year later, is more forthcoming, and gives us a synonym ('Reine des Hybrides') as well: "*Canes*, erect, out-thrust. *Ovary* glabrous, shortly turbinate or hemispherical. *Flower* medium-sized, full, regular, homogeneously purple." (It is interesting to note that this first rose commemorating Vibert is the same purplish crimson color as the last one commemorating him in his era, 'Souvenir de Pierre Vibert', Moreau-Robert's 1867 Mossy Remontant, which, while rare, still exists.) The new group was underway!
Two years passed, and it was Vibert himself, newly in business, who released the next two Hybrid Chinas, which however were bred by one Monsieur Jantet, unknown but for three roses released through Vibert in 1816 (the third, non-hybrid, rose from Jantet was a Gallica by the name of...'Jantet'):
'Cerise Eclatante' (Jantet/Vibert, 1816) syn. 'Cerise Elegante'. Turning again to our usual stalwarts--Noisette: "Flowers large, semi-double, bright red"; Desportes: "Scarlet"; and Prevost fils sits this one out.
Jantet's other Hybrid China was 'La Philippine' (Jantet/Vibert, 1816). Calvert of Rouen lists it twice in 1821, first as "Semi-double...dark violet," then as "dark purple." Desportes says "blackish"; and Prevost fils widens our vocabulary with, "*Flower*, hypocrateriform [*i.e.*, "in the form of an antique vase"], medium-sized, double or multiplex, velvety, black-purple."
Two more years passed until the extremely obscure Hybrid China 'Aurelie' was introduced in 1818, breeder unknown, but recorded by Calvert in 1821 as "red."
1818 also saw the release of a Hybrid China ascribed to "Rouen"--the city of Prevost fils and Calvert--by the name of 'Belle de Lodi'. Desportes, spelling it 'Belle de Lody', gives a synonym 'Belle Gabrielle', and then lists it without description. Prevost fils lists it supplementarily, name only--'Belle Gabrielle'--noting that it could be found in Laffay's nursery, whatever implications that might hold for us. The name "Lodi" of course hints at an Italian connection.
By the end of 1819, three more Hybrid Chinas had appeared: 'Belle Zulme' (Descemet/Vibert), syn. 'Descemet', 'Zulme'. Descemet was obliged to flee for political reasons about the time the first Hybrid China was getting underway; Vibert went a long way towards establishing himself in the business abruptly by purchasing Descemet's premises and nursery stock, including new rose seedlings from Descemet's breeding efforts, from a no-doubt very hurried refugee anxious to be on his way. This rose was evidently among those seedlings. "Purple," says Desportes. Prevost fils fills us in: "*Peduncle* hispid-glandulose. *Ovary* oval-pyriform, glabrous. *Sepals* glandulose. *Flower* small or medium-sized, very multiplex, light purple red passing to pale violet."
LeRouge of Dole, France, organist and rosarian, tells us in his manuscript of 1819/1820 about the next one, 'Centfeuilles Amarante': "This is a hybrid of the China and the Provins--very new variety--its wood is greenish, armed with close-set prickles of a brown-red which are pretty strong; the leaves are larger than those of the Type [LeRouge is probably referring to 'Parsons' Pink China']. The bud is very inflated and shows, upon opening, a form like that of the Centifolia, of a deep crimson. The peduncle bearing the blossom is obliged to bend under the weight of this too-double stamenless Rose. It's a curious novelty which can't fail to please the fanciers of rarities. It blooms from the 10th to the 15th of June." (One is tempted to identify it with Mauget's China 'Amaranthe' of the same year; but both Desportes and Pirolle allot Mauget's variety, which was deep pink, to the pure Chinas.)
The third 1819 Hybrid China was 'Violette', again from an unknown breeder. "Violet," Calvert tells us, with a certain ring of truth, no one else ever offering further words on it.
With 1820, we reach the end of the first phase of Hybrid Chinas; no fewer than nine new ones were available by the end of the year, more than doubling the size of the group, and indeed supplying the first "star" in the series, as we shall see. We take them alphabetically:
'A Fleur Violatre Semi-Double' (Breeder unknown, 1820 or before). As we find no published descriptions, fortunately the name carries the description--it was violet-ish, and semi-double. Vibert offered it in 1820, ot as his own seedling, after which we hear no more of it.
'A Fleurs de Junon' (Hardy, 1820 or before). Hardy of the Luxembourg Palace in Paris was much concerning himself with Teas, Chinas, and Hybrid Chinas at this point, as we see when we look over the lists of his productions. His Tea 'L'Hymenee' appeared at this time, and was well known for several decades, even being recorded eventually in such a place as far-off California later in the century. This Hybrid China, 'A Fleurs de Junon', did not have as long a career, but did remain on the market for at least a decade. The name refers back to the Gallica 'Junon', actually a hybrid between Gallica and Centifolia, released by Dupont before 1811; Guerrapain, writing in that year, describes Dupont's rose as "a beautiful deep pink, often plumed white." In 1826, Louis Noisette describes 'A Fleurs de Junon' as "Flowers small, double, pink, looking much like those of 'Junon'"; and Pirolle, in the same year, describes its flowers as "beautiful cerise red, very double and very bright." Desportes, in 1828, sets forth a date of 1822, and describes the color as "tender pink." The next year after Desportes, Prevost fils looks at it very carefully indeed and informs us, "*Ovary*, narrow, ovoid. *Flower*, medium sized, multiplex, hypocrateriform, purple red. *Petals* ordinarily notched, with a point within the notch; those of the center are nearly always rayed with white. *Styles* 15-30. This variety has canes fairly constantly bestrewn with glands." We see, then, that it is the raying with white which probably suggested the name recalling the older Gallica hybrid.
'De Luxembourg' (Hardy, 1820 or before). We see many roses from Hardy proclaiming their place of origin, the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. This Hybrid China was described by Noisette as, "Flowers pretty, very double, having the form of a Ranunculus, petals in a spiral, of a charming violet color." The spiral form which is noted is important as reflecting the influence of the China parent; the old European roses would typically have flowers which opened radially, not spirally. Today, a spiral unfurling is what we expect of a rose blossom. Prevost fils adds, "*Ovary* glabrous, short, oval-pyriform. *Flower* small, full, regular, purple red with edges brown-purple or deep violet." Hardy was to release what were presumably improvements on this Ranunculus-shaped hybrid a few years later, a 'Renoncule Violette' in 1824, and a 'Renoncule Brune' by 1828--both Hybrid Chinas again.
'George IV' is undoubtedly the most famous of these earliest Hybrid Chinas, and stands out as having been bred in England by a very young Thomas Rivers, who was only 22 at the time of its release in 1820. Years later, a famous nurseryman, he recalled the thrill: "Even now I have not forgotten the pleasure the discovery of this rose gave me. One morning in June I was looking over the first bed of roses I had ever raised from seed, and searching for something new among them with all the ardour of youth, when my attention was attracted to a rose in the centre of the bed, not in bloom, but growing with great vigour, its shoots offering a remarkable contrast to the plants by which it was surrounded, in their purple-crimson tinge...shoots more than ten feet in length in one season." This English rose did not penetrate to our French commentators quickly; Prevost fils only lists it, undescribed, in his appendix; and even Calvert, with offices in both London and Rouen, does not list it in 1821. We turn, then, to an American, Robert Buist, writing in 1844, for a description of this long-famed variety: "An old but splendid variety, of the richest crimson colour, always perfect and fully double, of cupped form, a free grower in rich soils."
A Hybrid China 'Grosse Violette' is recorded by 1820 from an unknown breeder; this is another for which we must trust to its name for the description--it was big and violet.
Returning to Hardy, several roses have been named 'Gracilis'. Hardy's circa 1820 Hybrid China by that name was, according to Boitard, "Very vigorous; big upright canes; smooth bark; thorns equal, barely curved, long, compressed at the base; leaves remote; leaflets large and oval, deeply and largely dentate like a saw; flowers numerous, medium-sized, quite double, often solitary, sometimes in twos, a beautiful bright pink."
Hardy's next Hybrid China of circa 1820 was 'Heraclius', which Boitard describes as, "Very vigorous bush, with branching canes; leaves a light green and a little shiny, with leaflets profoundly and irregularly dentate; flowers very numerous, not always opening well, medium-sized, very full, flesh-colored, lightly tinted pink; petals crisped and raggedly, close-set in the middle, sometimes rounded at the tip."
Continuing with Hardy's offerings of the same year, we have 'Hybride a Fleurs Roses', syn. 'Centfeuilles Rose', which Boitard describes as, "Flowers charming, large, pink, having the size, form, and color of a beautiful Centifolia rose."
Our final Hybrid China of this initial phase, again from Hardy circa 1820, is 'Noemie', which, once again, we entrust to Boitard: "Bush with horizontally wide-spreading canes; thorns sparse, brown, fairly numerous, widened at their base; leaflets oval, reflexed, not very dentate; flowers large, very double, perfectly formed, fairly numerous, of a violet pink, with several petals rayed with white."
This, then, is what the Hybrid Chinas encompassed through 1820--quite a mixed bag, but with an emphasis on crimsons and violets deriving perhaps from parental Chinas such as 'Slater's Crimson Chine', 'Cruenta', the 'Blue Rose', 'Ternaux', and 'Fleur de Venus', available at the time, as we have seen previously. Ten years later, their number teeming, some seedlings of new generations of Hybrid Chinas would begin to exhibit an ability to rebloom, "remembered" from the China ancestor; and, crossed with their cohorts the Hybrid Bourbons, the Bourbons, and, most importantly the Damask Perpetuals--Ecoffay's 'Rose du Roi' looming large in the process--they would play their part in giving rise to the first Hybrid Perpetuals, passing on their own rich heritage, the reblooming characteristic of the China as well as the size and elegance of the old European roses. The synthesis of two worlds, effected covertly in the Hybrid Chinas, finally came to full visual fruition in their progeny the Hybrid Perpetuals. But they long maintained their own distinct place in Rosedom, on their own merits. The affection many rosarians felt for the Hybrid Chinas as a separate grouping is abundantly clear. As Thomas Rivers had it, "The superior varieties of this fine division give a combination of all that is or can be beautiful in summer roses; for, not only are their flowers of the most elegant forms, their foliage of extreme luxuriance, but their branches are so vigorous and graceful, that perhaps no plant presents such a mass of beauty as a fine-grown hybrid China rose in full bloom."
speech at Lyon: http://www.csulb.edu/~odinthor/grab4.html