There are no active references in this article.
A very vigorous deciduous or semi-evergreen climber attaining 40 ft or, in warm climates, 60 to 80 ft in height; young shoots growing 15 to 20 ft in length and as much as 1 in. in diameter in one season, armed with stout, uniform, hooked prickles. Leaves with usually seven leaflets; rachis and petiole glabrous, slightly prickly. Leaflets elliptic, oblong or ovate, rounded or tapered at the base, acuminate at the apex, finely and mostly simply toothed, 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. wide, glabrous. Stipules narrow, with slender, spreading tips, not or scarcely glandular at the edge. Flowers solitary, rarely in twos or threes, fragrant, white or cream-coloured in the typical state, 4 to 51⁄2 in. across; pedicels 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. long, they and the receptacles smooth and glabrous. Sepals entire, narrowly triangular, not constricted at the base, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, smooth on the back. Petals broadly wedge-shaped. Stamens white, with yellow anthers. Styles very downy. Fruits shedding the sepals when fully ripe, red or yellow flushed with red, 1 to 13⁄8 in. wide, with a thick wall and small cavity. Bot. Mag., t. 7972.
A native of N.E. India, Upper Burma and Yunnan; discovered by Sir George Watt in Manipur in 1882, but described in 1888 from specimens collected by Sir Henry Collett in the Shan Hills of Upper Burma, growing at 3,500 to 5,000 ft, and introduced by him (the seeds were distributed from the Calcutta Botanic Garden in 1889). Judging from these specimens the flowers vary in size, in one instance being only about 31⁄2 in. across. They were collected in March, and a fruiting specimen in April.
The largest flowered of all wild roses and one of the most rampant growers, this remarkable species has not proved very free-flowering with us. It first flowered with Lord Brougham at the Château Eléonore, Cannes, in 1898, and in England five years later, in March, at Albury, Surrey, where it was grown in a peach house. In the Temperate House at Kew it grew with excessive vigour but flowered regularly after 1912, when the borders were resoiled with a lighter mixture than had hitherto been used. With the protection of a wall, R. gigantea has survived and flowered for a time in southern England, and even in Suffolk, where a new and perhaps hardier introduction from India flowered on several occasions from 1912 onwards and withstood 25°F. of frost (Gard. Chron., Vol. 85 (1929), p. 449). But it is most likely to be a permanency in a warm, sunny place in the milder parts. It grows well at Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland.
R. gigantea was reintroduced by Frank Kingdon Ward in 1948 from Manipur, where he found it flowering in early spring but still bearing ripe fruits. ‘The chubby leaves, still soft and limp, were a deep red; the slim, pointed flower buds a pale daffodil yellow; but when the enormous flowers opened they were ivory white, borne singly all along the arching sprays, each petal faintly engraved with a network of veins like a watermark … The globose hips look like crab apples. They are yellow with rosy cheeks when ripe, thick and iron hard …’ (Plant Hunter in Manipur (1952), pp. 45-6). The largest plants he saw had stems ‘as thick as a man’s forearm’, but the original specimen at the Château Eléonore attained a girth of almost 5 ft at the base before it died.
R. gigantea, in its typical state, extends into the southern parts of the Chinese province of Yunnan. But of greater interest are the forms collected by Forrest in central and north-western Yunnan, which are of smaller stature than R. gigantea of Burma, even shrubs no more than 5 ft high, with fragrant flowers in shades of pale yellow or rose, yet agreeing essentially with R. gigantea and certainly not specifically distinct from it. It is perhaps these Yunnan forms, which Forrest found both wild and cultivated, that gave rise to the tea-scented roses of Chinese gardens (see further under R. × odorata, p. 77). For hybrids of R. gigantea, raised in recent years in Europe, America and Australia, see ‘Belle Portugaise’, p. 172. For “Cooper’s R. gigantea” see under R. laevigata.
Henry Collett, of the Bengal Army, was a gifted amateur botanist and the author of Flora Simlensis. He found R. gigantea while serving as Colonel commanding a brigade in Burma and is said to have spotted it at a distance of two miles through his field-glass. Another of his discoveries at that time was Lonicera hildebrandiana. He was knighted on his retirement in 1893 and died in 1901.