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A shrub of variable habit in the wild, attaining a height of 20 ft under favourable conditions but stunted at high altitudes and found only 6 ft high by Kingdon Ward in Manipur, despite the warm climate and low altitude; in cultivation it will reach 12 ft or so in height and more in diameter, if well grown. The species has a varied and complex armature: the prickles are curved or straight, often directed upward, broadly based, usually arranged in pairs at the nodes, and are often mixed with slender needles or bristles; on the young stems especially the prickles may be broad and flattened and sometimes attain a very large size (see f. pteracantha). Leaves up to 4 or 5 in. long, composed of seven to seventeen leaflets (three to eight pairs); rachis glabrous or downy. Leaflets 1⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. long, obovate, elliptic or oblong, rich green above, glabrous or hairy beneath (rarely hairy on both sides), simply toothed, often only in the upper part of the leaflet. Flowers solitary on short laterals in May, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. wide, white, creamy white or sulphur yellow, usually with only four petals, arranged in the form of a Maltese cross. Pedicels and receptacle usually smooth and glabrous. Sepals glabrous or silky-hairy outside, entire, usually acute. Stamens comparatively few (40 to 65). Fruits globular or pear-shaped, dark crimson, scarlet, orange or yellow, sometimes with a fleshy foot-stalk.
Native of the Himalaya, the hills of N.E. India, S.E. Tibet, N. Burma and China (Kansu to Yunnan and parts of central China); described by Lindley in 1820 from a specimen in the Banks herbarium gathered by one of Wallich’s collectors in Nepal. It was introduced from the Himalaya, probably from Nepal, about 1822 and flourished at Kew, where in the 1870s there was a specimen about 15 ft high on a wall. But this rose seems to have been largely ignored by gardeners until re-introduced from China. In 1890, Père Delavay, the French missionary, sent two lots of seed from Yunnan to Maurice de Vilmorin’s collection at Les Barres, and another lot came from E. Szechwan, probably from Père Farges. By 1904 there was a great assemblage of these Chinese forms at Les Barres, varying in the armature and colouring of the stems, the degree of pubescence on the leaves, the number and shape of the leaflets, the colour and size of the spines and fruits. The colour of the young wood and spines was sometimes bright red, and the fruits, normally bright red, were yellow in the forms from Szechwan.
Wilson, too, sent seed from China between 1900 and 1910, first for Messrs Veitch and later for the Arnold Arboretum, mostly from W. Szechwan but also from W. Hupeh. In these regions, according to Wilson, R. sericea is abundant in upland thickets, on the margins of woods and in forest glades, and shows the same variations as the Vilmorin seedlings. Forrest, too, sent seed, but the only plants known to have been at all widely grown from his introduction were raised from Wisley number A.867, collected in the hills north of Tengyueh in 1917-19.
In two respects the plants from Hupeh and Szechwan differ from the more typical Himalayan ones – the leaflets are more numerous, occurring in up to eight pairs against usually not more than five in the typical state; and the foot-stalk of the fruit is always fleshy. It was on the basis of this difference that Rolfe established the species R. omeiensis in Botanical Magazine, t. 8471 (1912), taking the epithet from Mt Omei in W. Szechwan, where specimens had been collected by Wilson and earlier by Faber. However, the typical R. omeiensis and typical R. sericea are so closely linked by intermediate states, especially in Yunnan, that there is really no solid character by which to distinguish them, except that, so far as is known, the fruits of Himalayan plants do not have thickened pedicels in the fruiting stage. It was therefore with very good reason that Rowley united, or rather re-united, these species in 1959 (Bull. Jard. Bot. Brux., Vol. 30, p. 210).
When well grown, R. sericea makes a beautiful specimen, with its abundant, soft green, ferny foliage. In having only four petals to the flower it is unique among roses, but the character is not altogether constant; towards the end of the flowering season odd flowers may be seen bearing five petals. In the colour plate accompanying his original description of R. sericea Lindley shows five petals, but he may have assumed that the missing petals had dropped, since five-petalled flowers are rare on wild plants. It is also unlikely that the type really had the flowers of a dog rose colour, as shown in the plate.
f. pteracantha – This is now in cultivation from a new introduction (Lancaster 824), collected in 1981 in western Szechwan west of Mount Omei between Yaan and Hanuan, at about 6,500 ft. Plants from this seed have grown vigorously, flowering in 1985 and reaching 10 ft by 1986. The development of the wing-prickles varies greatly even on a single plant. Fruits globular, red.
R. sericea var. pteracantha (Franch.) Boulenger
R. omeiensis f. pteracantha (Franch.) Rehd. & Wils
R. omeiensis polyphylla Geier