There are no active references in this article.
A shrub to about 7 ft high; stems and branches densely armed with curved prickles of various sizes, grading into stiff bristles. Leaves with five or seven leaflets; rachis hairy, prickly beneath. Leaflets oval or ovate, acute to obtuse at the apex, dull and glabrous above, greyish and hairy beneath, sharply and simply toothed. Flowers semi-double, fragrant, in shades of blush or pink, borne in lax clusters of up to a dozen, each on a long stalk which is densely covered with glandular bristles and small prickles (but the inflorescence more compact in some of the Autumn Damasks). Sepals up to twice the length of the flower-bud, with slender, sometimes slightly expanded tails and with lateral appendages, glandular and hairy on the back, strongly reflexed at flowering-time, soon deciduous. Receptacle narrowly ellipsoid, or narrowly campanulate, sometimes (especially in some Autumn Damasks) funnel-shaped, with the same covering as the sepals.
R. damascena is not known in the wild state. Its affinity is with R. gallica, but its armature, although mixed as in that species, is denser and stronger, the prickles being more numerous and the bristles stiffer; the inflorescence is usually laxer, with more numerous flowers, the receptacles are more elongate, and the sepals longer and more pinnated (though strongly pinnated in some forms of R. gallica), and completely reflexed at flowering-time; it is also taller, and does not sucker. Showing little variation, it is probably a more or less fixed hybrid, with R. moschata as the other parent; Dr Hurst, however, suggested R. phoenicea for the Summer Damasks, which are the typical R. damascena, and R. moschata only for the Autumn Damasks (var. semperflorens).
R. damascena has been in cultivation in Europe at least since the early 16th century. The Spanish doctor Monardes, in a work written in 1551, called the Damasks Rosae Alexandrinae or Rosae Persicae, the former name indicating that they had reached Spain from Alexandria and the latter the place of their birth. In stating that the Italians, French, and Germans called this rose Rosa Damascena, from a belief that it came from Damascus, Monardes was confusing the Damask rose with the Musk rose, R. moschata, for it was to the latter that the name Rosa damascena was applied outside Britain, when used at all, the most frequent name for R. damascena being Rosa incarnata, or in the Low Countries and the Rhineland, Rosa provincialis; Rosa pallida was also used for it, especially by the apothecaries. But in British gardens it was called Rosa damascena, and appears under that name in all the editions of Miller’s dictionary, as earlier in Gerard’s Herball and Parkinson’s Paradisus and Theatrum Botanicum.
The old medical botanists were concerned with R. damascena as the source of a purgative liquor, and make only passing reference to the fragrance of its flowers, for which, and as a source of rose-water, it was more commonly grown. It is, wrote Parkinson in the Paradisus, ‘of the most excellent sweet pleasant sent, far surpassing all other Roses or Flowers, being neyther heady nor too strong, nor stuffing or unpleasant sweet, as many other flowers’. The distilled oil or spirit from its petals, he added in the Theatrum, ‘serveth more for outward perfumes than inward Physicke … and yet there is by many times much more of them spent and used than of red roses, so much hath pleasure outstripped necessary use’. But even in Parkinson’s time the Damask rose had a rival in R. centifolia, and by the 1830s had become rare. Today, the only pure Damasks still in gardens are the York and Lancaster rose and the Kazanlik (‘Trigintipetala’), the other Summer Damasks being forms of comparatively recent introduction from Iran, or hybrids.
Note. The name R. damascena was first published by J. Herrmann in his Dissertatio (1762) and not, as has hitherto been assumed, by Miller in his Dictionary (1768). In the similar case of R. virginiana it is possible to get over the difficulty by making the convenient though not very convincing assumption that Herrmann’s plant was an anomalous form of R. virginiana Mill. Such an expedient, in the present instance, is even less acceptable, since R. damascena, as usually understood, is included by Herrmann in R. centifolia. His R. damascena is a small shrub with sub-solitary medium-sized flowers, milky white with a red flush, borne on rather spiny pedicels; sepals pinnated; receptacle ovoid, spinose; leaflets five; stipules large, toothed; stem armed with incurved spines at the stipules. Herrmann cites as a synonym the R. lacteola of Jean Bauhin’s Historia (1650), but Bauhin took the name and description from an earlier work, the Hortus Medicus of Camerarius (1588), from which we get the additional information that its flowers were very double and that it was cultivated in quantity around Bratislava. R. lacteola is figured in Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis (1616), where it is shown as unarmed, and it is one of the five roses listed by Linnaeus in Hortus Cliffortianus (1737), where the extreme doubleness of the flowers was remarked on. Another pre-Linnaean name for R. lacteola was R. alba, minor of Caspar Bauhin’s Pinax (1623). The only information in Herrmann’s dissertation that suggests some connection between his R. damascena and Miller’s is that, according to him, this rose was known in Germany as ‘die Molcken-Rose’ or ‘Damascener-Rose’, from which a purgative was made by infusing the flowers in whey (Molcke in German). The Damask rose as usually understood was certainly put to a similar use (as was R. moschata), but other roses may have the same property.
Despite its obscurity, R. damascena J. Herrm. invalidates the later R. damascena Mill. and another name is needed for the Damask rose. The next possible name in order of priority is R. belgica Mill., often made a synonym of R. damascena. But little is known today of the Belgic roses, and it is questionable whether they were of the same parentage as R. damascena Mill. A likelier candidate is R. calendarum Borkh. (1797), founded on an Autumn Damask; this name could be rejected as nomen nudum but was taken up by K.C. Gmelin in Flora Badensis, Vol. 2, p. 430 (1806) and probably still has priority over R. bifera Pers., also founded on an Autumn Damask, and published in November 1806.
The R. damascena of L’Obel (1581) is of uncertain identity. Later pre-Linnaean botanists gave the name as a synonym of R. rubra, i.e., R. gallica – surprisingly, since there is little or nothing in his description and figure to suggest that species. The rose was cultivated by Adrian van der Gracht at Ghent; it had stems armed with scattered, curved thorns, fragrant solitary flowers, which were semi-double, white with a flush of pink on some petals, roundish receptacles and entire sepals not exceeding the flower-bud in length. It was commonly known as R. odoratissima (L’Obel, Stirp. Hist. (1581), p. 618; Icones (1581), Vol. II, p. 206). Whatever this rose was, it was certainly not R. damascena in the modern sense, and in citing R. damascena L’Obel in the 1768 edition of his Dictionary Miller was guilty of carelessness, for the rose he actually describes is R. damascena as usually understood.
York and Lancaster Rose
Four Seasons Rose
R. bifera semperflorens Loisel.
R. centifolia á R. bifera Poir.
R. calendarum Borkh.
R. omnium calendarum Roessig
R. bifera (Poir.) Pers.
R. menstrua Andr.
This group of old garden varieties has no constant botanical character to distinguish it from typical R. damascena Mill, and is probably of the same parentage (R. gallica × R. moschata). The names given to these roses all express the fact that, with suitable pruning, they had the ability to produce their flowers in two or three flushes during the growing season and could, with forcing, be flowered in the winter months. The epithet bifera was given by Poiret in the belief that ‘le Rosier des Quatres Saisons’ was the twice-bearing rose of Paestum often alluded to by the Roman poets; this had frequent flowers, but they were usually described as of a deep red colour.The first reference in modern literature to a remontant Damask appears in Ferrari’s Flora, seu de Florum Cultura, a work published in Rome in 1633, where it is called Rosa italica flore pleno perpetuo and, in the Italian translation of 1638, the ‘Rosa di ogni mese’. It was not known to Gerard or Parkinson, but is mentioned in the Flora of John Rea (1665). He calls it Rosa mensalis or the ‘monethly’ rose and remarks that it produced its flowers in three flushes (June, mid-August, and late September); it was ‘in all the parts thereof very like unto the Damask Rose’, but the flowers were ‘something more double, and not all things so sweet’. According to Ferrari, the Italian monthly rose differed from the ordinary Damask only in being more prickly (‘densioribus saevit aculeis’).Several sorts of Autumn Damask were grown, but during the first half of the 19th century they were displaced by the various hybrid remontant roses, which owe their ‘perpetual-flowering’ character partly to the Autumn Damasks and partly to the China roses. The Autumn Damask still in cultivation agrees very well with the botanical type of var. semperflorens, which was the common Quatre Saisons rose of the French (R. bifera vulgaris Thory) – a different rose from the old monthly Damask of British gardens. It is a bush to about 4 ft high, which if pruned in late winter will bloom from June until autumn. The semi-double pink flowers are borne in small clusters on short, stiff pedicels, and show what was, for Thory, the leading character of R. bifera, namely, its funnel-shaped and rather narrow receptacles (repeat-flowering Damasks with ellipsoid receptacles were placed by Thory under R. damascena). This peculiarity is not constant, however, judging from the cultivated plant, some of whose flowers have normal receptacles. It is perhaps the outward sign of partial infertility.The Autumn Damasks are also represented in gardens by the old ‘Quatre Saisons Blanc Mousseux’ (‘Perpetual White Moss’). This on at least two occasions has sported back to the pink-flowered moss-less Damask described above (see Graham Thomas, The Old Shrub Roses, p. 161 and plate IV).