Rosa damascena

TSO logo

Sponsor this page

For information about how you could sponsor this page, see How You Can Help


Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Rosa damascena' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2021-06-20.


Common Names

  • Damask Rose


Enlarged end of a flower stalk that bears floral parts; (in some Podocarpaceae) fleshy structure bearing a seed formed by fusion of lowermost seed scales and peduncle.
Sharply pointed.
(pl. apices) Tip. apical At the apex.
Immature shoot protected by scales that develops into leaves and/or flowers.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
An elliptic solid.
With an unbroken margin.
Coordinated growth of leaves or flowers. Such new growth is often a different colour to mature foliage.
Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
Bearing glands.
Plant originating from the cross-fertilisation of genetically distinct individuals (e.g. two species or two subspecies).
(botanical) Contained within another part or organ.
Flower-bearing part of a plant; arrangement of flowers on the floral axis.
Loose or open.
nomen nudum
(nom. nud.) (of plant name) Name published without a description and therefore invalid.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Egg-shaped solid.
Central axis of an inflorescence cone or pinnate leaf.
Enlarged end of a flower stalk that bears floral parts; (in some Podocarpaceae) fleshy structure bearing a seed formed by fusion of lowermost seed scales and peduncle.
Folded backwards.
(syn.) (botanical) An alternative or former name for a taxon usually considered to be invalid (often given in brackets). Synonyms arise when a taxon has been described more than once (the prior name usually being the one accepted as correct) or if an article of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature has been contravened requiring the publishing of a new name. Developments in taxonomic thought may be reflected in an increasing list of synonyms as generic or specific concepts change over time.


There are no active references in this article.


Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Rosa damascena' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2021-06-20.

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.

f. versicolor West.

York and Lancaster Rose

‘This Rose in the forme and order of the growing, is neerest unto the ordinary damaske rose… the difference consisting in this, that the flower (being of the same largenesse and doublenesse as the damask rose) hath the one halfe of it, sometimes of a pale whitish colour, and the other halfe, of a paler damaske colour than the ordinary… sometimes also the flower hath divers strips, and markes in it, as one leafe [petal] white, or striped with white, and the other halfe blush, or striped with blush, sometimes also all striped, or spotted over, and other times little or no stripes or markes at all, as nature listeth to play with varieties, in this and in other flowers…’ (Parkinson, Paradisus (1629), p. 414).The York and Lancaster usually has the variegation that Parkinson mentions first (‘party-coloured’ as Rea termed it some years later) and is shown in Graham Thomas, The Old Shrub Roses, Plate IV, facing p. 104. A more irregularly coloured form was portrayed by Ehret in the painting reproduced in The Rose Annual 1977, facing p. 60. Except in the variegation of the flowers, the York and Lancaster is a typical representative of R. damascena; it makes a lax bush to about 7 ft high.The variegated R. damascena was first described by Clusius in 1601, from information given to him by a Cologne gardener, and was named by him R. versicolor. It is sometimes stated that this is R. gallica ‘Rosa Mundi’, but Clusius distinctly stated that the flowers were like those of ‘R. praenestina’, the Plinian name used by him for R. damascena, and indeed his detailed description agrees very well with Parkinson’s.

R 'Portlandica' Portland Rose, Scarlet Four Seasons

A low-growing rose, spreading by suckers, its stems armed with fine prickles of various sizes. Flowers bright red, semi-double, in clusters of three or four, faintly scented, borne from midsummer into autumn (R. Portlandica West., Fl. Angl. (1775); R. Portlandia Andr.; R. bifera Portlandica Loisel.; R. damascena coccinea Thory in Redouté, Les Roses, Vol. I, p. 109, t.; R. Paestana Hort.).The origin of this rose is not known, but according to Andrews it was named for the Duchess of Portland, who is said to have cultivated it in her garden at Bulstrode Park. It was in commerce in Britain by the 1770s. For the untenable theory that it was a hybrid between R. damascena and ‘Slater’s Crimson China’, raised in Italy, see under R. chinensis ‘Semperflorens’. A rose agreeing with the original Portland rose has been found in some English gardens, see p. 196.The Portland rose is of historical interest as a parent of the ‘Rose du Roi’ (distributed in Britain as Lee’s Crimson Perpetual), first of a small group known as the Damask Perpetuals or Portland Roses. This group played its part in the formation of the Hybrid Perpetuals, which had largely displaced it in gardens by the middle of the 19th century.

'Trigintipetala' Kazanlik Rose

In its botanical characters this is a typical summer-flowering Damask rose and needs no further description. Indeed, except in the absence of variegation in its flowers, there is little to distinguish it from the York and Lancaster.This rose was named R. gallica var. damascena f. trigintipetala by Dr Dieck of Zöschen and was introduced by him about 1889 from the famous rose-fields of Bulgaria, situated on the southern side of the Balkan Mountains near Kazanlik, in the upper valley of the Tundzha, which have long been one of the principal sources of Attar of Roses. Dieck saw the same or a similar rose in Asia Minor and Cyprus, and took the epithet trigintipetala from the modern Greek name ‘triandafil’, or thirty-leaved (i.e., thirty-petalled). It is interesting that the same name, in the semi-italianised form ‘Trentaphilla’, is given as one of the names of the Damask rose in a commentary on the works of the Arab physician Mesuë, published in Venice in 1540.The identity of the Kazanlik rose seems to have been uncertain until specimens were received at Kew in 1874 and identified there by J. G. Baker as R. damascena. Another specimen in the Kew Herbarium, sent for identification by Messrs Dickson of Chester in 1886, is near to ‘Trigintipetala’; it was received by them as R. ‘Céleste’. R. damascena, as grown in Pakistan and Afghanistan, seems to be near to ‘Trigintipetala’.For accounts of the Kazanlik rose-fields see: Gard. Chron. (1859), p. 671; ibid. (1867), p. 606; ibid., Vol. 3 (1875), p. 202; ibid., Vol. 52 (1912), p. 425; Journ. Hort., Vol. 33 (1877), p. 254, a reprint of a despatch to The Times from its Naval Correspondent, who was attached to the Turkish forces during the Balkan War of 1877; G. S. Thomas, The Old Shrub Roses, p. 156, and Shrub Roses of Today, pp. 210-12.In earlier times there was a famous attar industry in the Fayyum Oasis, southwest of Cairo, while in India the largest fields were at Ghazipur, north-east of Benares (Hooker, Himalayan Journals (1854), p. 211; Gard. Chron. (1845), p. 211, quoting from Bishop Heber’s Indian Journal). In India the principal centre is now at Jaunpur, north-west of Benares.

var. semperflorens (Loisel.) Rowley

Common Names
Four Seasons Rose
Monthly Rose
Autumn Damask

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).