Rosa damascena written by Ellen Willmott

Rosa damascena Miller
Damask Rose

Rosa damascena: caule elongato, arcuato; aculeis falcatis, modice robustis, sparsis, aciculis intermixtis; foliolis 5-7, oblongis, simpliciter serratis, nullo modo coriaceis, facie glabris, dorso molliter pubescentibus; rhachi pubescente, parce glandulosa; stipulis adnatis, glandulis marginatis, apicibus liberis lanceolatis; floribus pluribus corymbosis; pendunculis dense aciculatis et glandulosis; bracteis lannceolatis; calyces tubo turbinato, aciculate et glanduloso; lobis simplicibus, ovatis, apice elongates, dorso pubescentibus, margine glandulosis; petalis rubris yel albis; stylus liberis, inclusis, dense villosis; fructu ovoideo, rubro, pulposo; sepalis deciduis.

Rosa damascena Miller, Gard. Dict. Ed. 8, vol ii. No. 15 (1768). -Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 18 (1802-1820). -Lindley, Ros. Monogr p. 62, No. 39 (1820).-Thory, Prodr. Monogr. Ros. p. 81 (1820). -Koehne, Deutsche Dendrol, p. 282 (1893).-Keller in Ascherson & Graebner, Syn. Mitteleur. Fl. vol. vi. P. 51 (1900). -Rehder in Bailey, Cycl. Am. Hort. vol. iv. p. 1552 (1902). -C. K. Schneider, Ill. Handbuch Laubholzk. vol. i. p. 549 (1906).
R. belgica Miller, Gard. Dict. Ed. 8, vol. ii. No. 17 (1768). -Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 40 (1802-1820).
R. calendarum Muenchausen, Hausvater, vol. v. p. 284 (1774). - Borkhausen, Hulz. p. 330, No. 196 (1790). -Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 8 (1802-1820).
R. papaverina major Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 31 (1802-1820).
R. violacea Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 22 (1802-1820).
R. sanguineo-purpurea Roessig, Die Rosen, No. 36 (1802-1820).
R. bifera Poiret in Lamarck's Encycl. vol. vi. p. 276 (1804). -Thory in Redoute Roses vol. i. p. 107, t. (1817); vol. iii. pp. 9, 59, 85, tabs. (1824); Prodr. Monogr. Ros. p. 84 (1821).
R. gallica damascena, f. trigintipetala Dieck in Gartenflora, vol. xxxviii. p. 129, f. 25 (1889).

Stem reaching a height of 8 or 10 feet, arching; prickles scattered, falcate, moderately stout, intermixed with unequal aciculi. Leaflets 5-7, moderately large, oblong, simply serrated, not at all coriaceous in texture, with fine veins but little raised on the under side, glabrous on the upper surface, softly pubescent all over beneath; petioles pubescent and slightly glandular; stipules adnate, gland ciliated, with small lanceolate free tips. Flowers many in a corymb, sweet-scented; peduncles densely aciculate and glandular; bracts lanceolate. Calyx-tube turbinate, aciculate and glandular; lobes simple, ovate, with a produced leafy point, an inch long, pubescent on the back, gland-edged. Petals very variable in colour, red or white. Styles free, included, densely hairy. Fruit ovoid, bright red, pulpy, ripening in September; sepals deciduous.


The origin of the Damask Rose cannot be traced. The frequent use of the word Damask in connection with Roses by writers of the sixteenth century, including Lyte and Shakespeare, makes it certain that some Rose supposed to have some from Damascus was well known in England at that time. Hakluyt says expressly that the Damask Rose was brought in "by Doctour Linaker, King Henry the seuenth and King Henrie the eight's Physician"(1); and Johnson, writing in the Dictionary of Gardening on the plants which were to be found in English gardens in the sixteenth century, adds that Dr. Linacre brought it from Italy (2).

In Turner's New Herball (3) the Damask Rose is thus referred to:

"The rose is so wel knowen that it nedeth no description / Dioscorides maketh mention but of one kinde of roses / but Mesue maketh two kindes / that is of the white and rede: but sense Mesues tyme/ there are found diuers other kindes of Damaske rosens / incarnation roses /muske roses /with certayne other kinds whereof is no mention in any olde writer."

In Lyte's Herball (4) the following passage occurs under "The Names":

"The first kinde of garden Roses is called in Italy, Rosa damascena, in this Countrie, Rosa alba: in Frenche, Rose blanche: in high Douche, Weisz Roosen: in base Almaigne, Witte Roosen: in Englishe, White Roses. And this kinde seemeth to be that, which Plinie calleth in Latine, Campana Rosa."

In 1551 Nicholas Monardes, the Spanish physician, published a series of very short medical treatises, in one of which, entitled De Rosis Persicis, seu Alexandrinis, he says:

"Amongst the Italians, Gauls, Germans and other tribes frequent use is now made of these Roses, which they call Damascenae because they believe them to have come from Damascus, the chief city of Syria. But with us this species has only been known for about thirty years."

Gerard's Herball (5) contains much information about "all these sorts of Roses we have in our London gardens." He tells us that-

"the 'Province or Damaske Rose,' Rosa Provincialis sive Damascena, 'the common Damaske Rose' in stature, prickly branches, and in other respects is like the White Rose; especiall difference consisteth in the colour and smell of the floures; for these are of a pale red colour, and of a more pleasant smell, and fitter for meat or medicine."

After describing the Great Holland Rose, he continues:

"the Damaske Rose is called the Italians Rosa incarnata: in high Dutch liebfarbige Roosen: in low Dutch Provincie Roose; of some Rosa provincaialis or Rose of Provence: in French of some Milesia, the Rose of Milaxo a citie in Asia, from whence some have thought it was first brought in to these parts of the world. The Great Rose, which is generally called the Great Province Rose, which Dutch men cannot endure; for say they, it came first out of Holland, and therefore to be called the Holland Rose; but by all likelihood it came from the Damaske Rose, as a kinde thereof, made better and fairer by art, which seemeth to agree with truth."

Parkinson's Paradisus (6) has the following account of "Rosa Damascena, the Damaske Rose":

"The Damaske Rose bush is more usually noursed up to a competent height to stand alone (which we call standards) than any other Rose: the barke both of the stocke and branches, is not fully so greene as the red or white Rose: the leaves are greene with an eye of white upon them, so like unto the red Rose, that there is no difference between them, but that the leaves of the red Rose seeme to bee of a darker greene. The flowers are of a fine deepe blush colour, as all know, with some pale yellow threds in the middle, and are not so thicke and double as the white, nor being blowne, with so large and great leaves as the red, but of the most excellent sweet pleasant sent, far surpassing all other Roses as Flowers, being neyther heady not too strong, not stuffing or unpleasant sweet, as many other flowers."

Sir James Smith, writing of the Damask Rose in Rees' Encyclopedia (7), says:

"Native of the South of Europe, and cultivated time out of mind, in our gardens, flowering June and July. The specific name seems to have originated with Lobel, and indicates that this species of rose came from Damascus. Perhaps it may be what is reported to have been brought from Syria by a Comte de Brie, at his return from the Crusades of which the Abbé Rozier speaks in his Cours Complet d'Agriculture; though that author's description accords with the common R. gallica, and not with our damascena, and he calls it moreover R. provincalis. We cite Rozier to shew that some particular sort of Rose was brought from Syria to France; but whether it might be our damascena, or the moschata hereafter mentioned, which many old authors have termed damascena, and which is certainly an oriental rose; we have not materials even to form a conjecture. The damaske Rose is proverbially sweet, not can any be more so than the species now under consideration, which forms a bush four or five feet high. The usual color of the flowers is a delicate uniform pink, verging rather towards purple than scarlet, and their fragrance is deliciously sweet as well as lasting."

Loiseleur Deslongchamps (8) says there is no evidence to prove the story of its introduction by the crusaders from Syria, and he thinks it more likely that it existed in France from the earliest times and the plant whose virtues are extolled by Homer in the Iliad, but he brings forward no more proof of his statement than did the Abbé Rozier of his. The Romans doubtless had gardens to their villas in Gaul, and probably grew some form of Rose which may or may not have been the twelve-petalled Milesian mentioned by Pliny and generally identified as the Damaske Rose. The subject is interesting, but it is course entirely conjectural.

Oliver de Serre devotes Chapter X. of the Theatre d'Agriculture (1600) to a consideration of the Roses at that time known in France.

"Commencant par les arbustes, les plus remarquables sont Roziers distingués entre quatre principales espèces; une de rouge, autres d'incarnates ou escarlatines, et deux de blanches l'autre est la Damasquine ou musquate, ainsi dicte pour sa précieuse senteur Touchant les sauviages, appelées canines, de plusieurs espèce s'en trouvent-ils, par les haies et buissons, qui ont de la valeur: sur toutes lesquelles, les esglantines emportent le prix, approchant des Damasquines."

Miss Lawrance has drawings of eleven Roses called Damascena, their respective English names being Red Monthly Rose, York and Lancaster, White Monthly Rose, Blush Monthly Rose, Great Royal Rose, Blush Belgic Rose, Goliah Rose, Red Belgic Rose, Imperial Blush Rose. Some of these roses had great beauty, and it is sad to think they have entirely disappered from cultivation. Roessig describes and figures two forms, Rosa Damascena rubropurpurea (No. 18) and Rosa Damascena Marmora (No. 38).

Dumont de Courset (9) describes both the Damask Rose and Rosa bifera: the latter he believes to be only a variety of the Damask Rose, but submits to the generally accepted view that it is a distinct species. Lindley also classes Rosa bifera with Rosa damascena, citing Redouté's plates 107 and 121 (vol. I.), although Thory strongly protests against these roses being confused, and carefully points out how Rosa damascena differs from Rosa bifera, Rosa alba, and Rosa centifolia. De Pronville (10) describes ten Damask Roses. One of these, which he says is rare in gardens is pale pink, very double flowers, and blossoms every month; it was derived from the Damask Roses which were cultivated in quantity on Mont Valérien near Paris and were used in making perfumes. He places Rosa damascena portlandica bifera last in his list, regarding it as the link connecting the Damascena Roses with the biferas, which he considers distinct.

Redouté figures seven forms as Damascena: subalba, coccinea, variegata, Aurora, Celsiana, Celsiana prolifera, and Italica; all were beautiful and their disappearance is a real loss to our gardens. Celsiana was especially attractive: it was one of the Roses beloved by Van Huysum, and it is seen in many of his finest paintings; in the gardens of Haarlem it was known by the name of the famous painter, but it was re-named by Thory in compliment to Cels, who introduced it into France. Aurora, another beautiful form, was dedicated by Redouté to his best pupil, Mademoiselle Aurore Poniatowski.

Boitard (11) groups together damascena, belgica, turbinate, centifolia, provinialis, gallica, and parvifolia. He disregards the views of other botanists, considering Miller is rather a gardener than a botanist, that De Pronville attaches small importance to the word species, and that Linnaeus and De Candolle are confused in their views of Rosa damascena. Prévost (12) enumerates and describes forty-four Damask Roses which were growing in his garden at Fulham in 1829. Mrs. Gore (13) names and describes a very large number of forms. Rivers (14) devotes a chapter to the Damask Rose, in which he describes the principal varieties at that time in cultivation. To this list Prince (15) who generally follows Rivers, adds about fifty more. William Paul (16) enumerates and describes eighty-seven varieties, the majority of which have long since disappeared from our gardens.

It is strange that the Damask Rose should have been passed over by Linnaeus, although he had a specimen in his herbarium, and it is one of the Roses most frequently mentioned by the pre-Linnaean writers. Among the early moderns we find it spoken of by Lobel (17), Sweert (18), Besler (19), and many others. Sweert only has plates, but all the others give some account of the Rose, describing it, however, rather vaguely and giving no cultural directions. It is evident that many of the older writers used the name Damask Rose somewhat indiscriminately, and they are only mentioned here because they have written on Roses, which they called Damask and which may or may not be the true Rosa damascena, not because the Roses they described have been identified with it.

The characters which principally distinguish Rosa damascena from Rosa gallica and Rosa centifolia are the long deciduous sepals, reflexing during flowering time, the tall arching stems, which are nearly always green in colour, the larger, hooked prickles, thinner leaflets, softly pubescent underneath, flowers many in a corymb, and elongated fruit which turns bright red and pulpy in September.

It has been commonly assumed that a Damask Rose must be deep red in colour, and the belief prevails as much in our own day as it did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fact is that the flowers vary in colour from deep red to pure white through every intermediate shade.

Regel (20) asserts that Rosa damascena is of eastern origin, but he gives no precise localities, and Bossier does not include it in his Flora Orientalis, saying expressly that he never saw it spontaneous in the East, although it is universally cultivated there. (21) Hooker (22) says that it is the commonest Rose of Indian gardens, and is cultivated for making attar of roses; he adds that its native country is unknown. Crépin (23) considers it a hybrid resulting from a cross between Rosa gallica and Rosa canina, which would account for its habitat never having been discovered.

 1. Principal Navigations, ed. 2, vol. ii. Pt. 1 p. 165 (1599).
 2. p. 57 (1829).
 3. p. 116 (1551).
 4. p. 655 (1578).
 5. p. 1080 (1597).
 6. p. 413 (1629).
 7. Vol, xxx. (1819).
 8. Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelles
 9. Le Botaniste Cultivateur, vol. v. p. 486 (1811).
10. Nomenclature des Roses, p. 5 (1818).
11. Manuel Complet de l'Amateur des Roses, p. 169 (1836).
12. Cat. desc. p. 79 (1838).
13. Rose Fancier's Manual, p. 153 (1838).
14. Rose Amateur's Guide, p. 58 (1840).
15. Manual of Roses, p. 47 (1846).
16. Rose Garden, p. 19 (1848).
17. Plantarum seu Stirpium Historia, p. 618 (1576); Icones Stirpium seu Plantarum, vol. ii. p. 206 (1591)
18. Florilegium, bk. ii. Plate 37, fig 5 (1612).
19. Hortus Erytettensis, Vern, Ordo. VI. fol. 4 (1613).
20. Act. Hort. Petrop. vol. v. pt. ii. p. 379 (Tent. Ros. Monogr. p. 95 [1877]) (1878).
21. Flora Orientalis, vol. ii. p. 676 (1872).
22. Flora of British India, vol. ii. p. 364 (1879).
23. Bull. Soc. Bot. Belg. vol. xviii. P. 358 (Primit. Monogr. Ros. Fasc. v. 604 [1889]) (1879).

Text from The Genus Rosa by Ellen Willmott, 1910