Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
Every so often a term comes up in family history that may puzzle a descendant. One such term is the reference to "old roses," -- what does that mean exactly? The rose is a familiar symbol, that may imply more than love alone. Roses of varying color and style have figured throughout history in many facets of life, and can mean different things -- remember the War of the Roses? A literal battle royal between the houses of Lancaster and York, the "red" and the "white" rose, respectively. Roses have long been a symbol in heraldry and royalty, a some of those "old rose" varieties may still be around.
The term "old roses" refers to varieties of the rose flower found during earlier time periods, many specific to particular locations throughout the world, some of which may no longer be available today. Rose enthusiasts, called "rosarians," may search long and hard to identity and propagate varieties of old roses. With such romantic names as the Damask Rose, Agathe Rose, China Rose, Tea Rose, and Bourbon Rose, the interest in old roses is more than a curiosity, and may be something akin to a researcher's passion for genealogy. Old roses are said to be found in out-of-the-way places such as old gardens, cemeteries, church yards, and townsites -- some available only in Europe. A good summary article that can be found online is Old Rose History and Synopsis, by Brent D. Dickerson, an internationally known old rose historian, presenting an overview of old roses, along with the origin and a brief history of many old rose and "middle age" rose varieties. Additional information can be found through local horticultural and rose societies, including many old rose societies, dedicated specifically to the study and cultivation of old roses. A great many publications, too numerous to mention, devoted to old roses are also available.