Rose sports

No, my column this month is not about the rugby, cricket, league results nor the Commonwealth Games but about sports in roses. A rose sport is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of a rose plant that results in a change in its characteristics. This is usually flower colour but other changes can include growth, usually a bush rose changes to a climber or in the repeat of bloom from once flowering to repeat blooming throughout the season.

No one really knows what causes the mutation but some causes could be natural radiation, chemical mutagens or just simply something went wrong in its genes. There does seem to be a genetic component to sporting as some varieties do seem to produce more than their fair share of sports, one of the most common being ‘Peace’ with 18 sports commercialised around the world. Among these are ‘Climbing Peace’, ‘Kronenbourg’ and ‘Chicago Peace’. Sports don’t have to be obvious either – repeat propagation of varieties often leads to subtle changes being passed along and again, ‘Peace’ is a good example of this. With over 100 million plants produced around the world, the colour of ‘Peace’ is sometimes not as strong as it once was.

Bloom colour is the main type of sport you will see in roses, although many often don’t make it to market as the colour change is not very strong. Some well known sports include ‘Hamilton Gardens’ (sport of ‘Paddy Stephens’, ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ (sport of ‘Aotearoa’), ‘St Margarets Gold’ (sport of ‘Hayley Westenra’), ‘Iris Gee’ (sport of ‘Liverpool Echo’), ‘Winchester Cathedral’ (sport of ‘Mary Rose’) and probably the oldest sport, Rosa Mundi, a sport of Rosa gallica officinalis from the 16th century.

Bush roses can also sometimes produce long growths and these are propagated and sold as climbing roses. Some just have the word “Climbing’ tacked on the front e.g. Climbing Iceberg, Climbing Blackberry Nip and Climbing Blue Moon. Others like ‘Red Flame’ (sport of ‘Lasting Love’) and ‘Jack Hume’ (sport of ‘Compassion’) are given a new identity. ‘Compassion in fact is a very prolific producer of pale yellow blooms so something does need to stand out to be considered new and different with this one.

The popular rose ‘New Dawn’ is a sport of Dr W van Fleet with all its characteristics but repeat blooms.

Sports can also be unstable and revert back to what it had sported from. Two good examples of this are the trio of sports from ‘Iceberg’ – ‘Blushing Pink Iceberg’, ‘Brilliant Pink Iceberg’ and ‘Burgundy Iceberg’ can all show up partial or full blooms of white, even whole clusters of white. The novel but tricky to grow ‘Abracadabra’ often fully or partially reverts back to its parent ‘Hocus Pocus’ which is actually a sport of ‘Black Beauty’ . The best sports are those that are those that are very stable and don’t revert.

If you find a sport in your garden, what should you do. First – check to see if it actually is one. I’ve had someone think they have one on ‘Gold Medal’ only for me to find it is the very faded old blooms instead. I’ve also had someone think they had a white sport of ‘Dublin Bay’ only for me to find it had sprouted a large cane of Rosa multiflora understock which has small white blooms. If it is actually a sport, mark it with a piece of string tied around the branch so you don’t cut it off and seek advice from someone in your local rose society who can give you an idea of whether it is worth taking further or not.  If so, more plants would need to be propagated and tested to see if the sport is stable and doesn’t revert. Who knows, you may have a winner on your hands.

In the Rose Garden for April

  • Test your pH of your soil. It should be around 6 – 6.5 or slightly acidic.
  • Prepare new areas for plantings. Dig over and add compost ready for winter planting. If planting where roses have been before, swap the soil for that in another part of the garden.
  • Order new seasons roses for winter planting from garden centres and rose nurseries.
  • It’s still a good time to take cuttings of roses.
  • If the autumn rain has not arrived, keep watering your roses but do not dead-head now.


By Hayden Foulds

Hayden also serves as Deputy Chairman of the World Federation of Rose Societies Rose Trials Committee amongst other rose endeavors. 

Read more from Hayden here.