Rosa Damascena Variegata, Rosier d'York et de Lancaster

related pages: redouté's damasks and biferas
York and Lancaster
class: Damask Rose
synonyms: R. X damascena versicolor, York and Lancaster
breeding: before 1551
illustrated by Redouté

"A second favourite double, or semi-double, rose is the York and Lancaster, of which there are two kinds; one a very old rose, in which the petals are sometimes white and sometimes pink, and sometimes white and pink in the same flower. This is without doubt the 'roses damasked, red and white,' the rose 'nor red not white but stolen of both' of Shakespeare, and it is the R. versicolor of the old botanical writers. In the other sort the petals are a rich crimson, flaked with white; it is a handsome rose, comparitevely modern, and is the Rosa Mundi of the Botanical Magazine, t, 1794."
-Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, In a Gloustershire Garden
Mike Lowe once told me that the Damask roses can be described as variations of a theme. 'York and Lancaster' displays several of these variations on one plant. John Parkinson first described the rose under the name of 'York and Lancaster' in his Paradisi in Sole Paradisus of 1629:
"the one half of it sometimes of a pale whitish colour, and the other half of a paler damask colour than the ordinary (Damask); this happeneth so many times and sometimes also the flower has divers stripes and marks on it, as one leafe white or striped with white, the other half blush or striped with blush, sometimes also all striped or spotted over, and at other times no stripes or marks at all as nature listeth to play with varieties in this as other flowers. Yet I observed that the longer it abideth blowen open in the sun, the paler and fewer stripes, markes and spots will be seene in it; the smell thereof is of a weake Damask rose scent."
'York and Lancaster' is believed to be a sport of Rosa x damascena 'Trigintepetala', which has been named 'Kazanlik' or 'Professeur Emile Perrot'; the rose that is used today for attar in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Iran. Nancy Steen wrote that several of the branches on her 'York and Lancaster' reverted to 'Trigintepetala', and Gerd Krussman wrote that cuttings have been taken from the rose and identified as 'Professeur Emile Perrot'. Boitard classified the rose with the Belgian Rose, and the 'Rose de Puteaux', both recognized as strong candidates by perfumers for rose water. It is interesting that 'York and Lancaster' is not recognized for its strong scent, given its close ties to the highly scented Damasks. In the 1636 folio edition of Historie of Plants, John Gerard spoke of roses that were the "honour and ornament of our English Sceptre, as by the conjunction appeareth, in the uniting of those two most Royall Houses of Lancaster and Yorke".

The rose has transcended its uses as an ordinary garden plant and suggests quite a bit of metaphor. Shakespeare wrote about the rose in both Sonnets and Henry VI. Jack Harkness interpreted the story of York and Lancaster plucking their white and red roses in Henry VI as symbolic of tearing England apart. He believed "The War of the Roses was a deceitful euphemism for the actions of murderous dukes." Dr. C.C. Hurst quoted Sonnet XCIX:

"The Roses fearfully on thorn did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, not red nor white, had stolen both
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death."
Hurst felt that Shakespeare must have had experience growing 'York and Lancaster' to have written about the rose in the manner in which he did. Hurst felt the rose had vigorous growth, as well as a weakness characterized by a tendency for chromosomes to pair in instable relationships. The instable pairing may be the reason why the rose is known to revert. Some rosarians have been vocal about their dislike for the plant; others find it quite charming.

©2016 Daphne Filiberti