The Florist Rose Trade - The Most Popular Flower Sold at Florists
by steve jones
History of Florist
Roses are the most popular flower sold at florists and flower markets. It has become the symbol of love, affection, and friendship. If your spouse is mad at you, or you want to impress your new sweetie, what do you usually do? Send a dozen roses, of course. Roses have become so popular that the colors represented some sign of emotion. But roses were not always the top florist flower.
Before the 1850s, roses were not as popular as they are today. There were several reasons, but mostly they didn’t bloom very well and didn’t take to forcing in greenhouses. Roses were spring and summer flowers only. During this time, hybrid perpetuals were just being introduced and a few tea roses as well.
Hermosa (China, light pink, <1837) was the first rose to make a big splash in the florist market. It was the first rose that could be forced to bloom during the winter. At that time roses were largely sold as buds for use in corsages and small bouquets. Stems 2-6 inches long were the norm, even though they could get an occasional 10-12 inch stem. However, long stems were not the rage and few cared. Foliage and stems didn’t matter since most of the roses ended up in corsages.
After Hermosa, the tea rose Safrano (apricot, 1839) became the most popular rose. Next was the tea, Bon Silene, aka the Boston Tea Rose. The reddish color made this rose quite popular. Other tea roses and hybrid perpetuals came onto the market: Isabella Sprunt, Niphetos, Catherine Mermet, Anna de Diesbach, Magna Carta, Marechal Neil, and Ma Capucine to name a few. In the late 1800s, Anna de Diesbach was the rage, to be replaced by the long stems of American Beauty, which was replaced by Mme Falcot. Even Noisettes were sold as florist roses, but mostly to people who used them to breed.
American Beauty (1885) made one of the biggest splashes in the florist industry, but it almost didn’t. The rose was imported from France by the rose historian George Bancroft. The rose produced deep red, long-stemmed roses. It was a very fussy and temperamental rose and was almost discarded until the growers found what conditions made it grow and produce well. The stems were legendary and in one of the earliest ARS shows, there was a class calling for the longest-stemmed American Beauty. The winner had a stem 9 feet long!
However, American Beauty was not the most popular red rose at the time nor was it the rage for as long as Meteor (deep pink, 1887). Meteor was from Rudolf Geschwind and classified as a noisette. It was almost another rose that was destined for the trash heap when by accident a nursery left a few plants next to the boiler and sitting in water. They found it flourished in heat and needed a lot of water.
It was during this time around 1900, that roses became one of the most popular florist flowers, replacing carnations, and helped the fledgling American Rose Society become a serious organization. Roses claimed the title of the Queen of Florist Roses, and it still continues today. The first 14 Presidents of the ARS were either florists, rose growers, or nurserymen. ARS was originally formed as a professional organization, but amateur gardeners were never discouraged from joining. It wasn’t until 1916 that they made a serious attempt to appeal to the casual gardener and form the basis of the organization as it is today.
The time came for hybrid teas to replace the older rose classes. With hybrid teas came more colors, longer blooming periods and amount of bloom. Liberty, Killarney, and Richmond were some of the popular red hybrid tea roses. Killarney and their sports dominated the market. A former President of the ARS, Wallace Pierson, wrote that Killarney and its sports make a family all their own and have done more for American varieties than any other rose. This was true as White Killarney and Double White Killarney were the best whites for many years in the 1910s on.
Ophelia (light pink) and her sports were quite popular and Radiance (light pink) and her sports dominated the market for awhile. One of the best winter blooming hybrid teas was Hoosier Beauty. Other top roses were Hadley, Talisman, Wellesley, Mrs. Francis Scott Key, and Mrs. Charles Russell.
Yellow was a difficult color to get into roses, and the noisette Marechal Neil held the top yellow place for many years after it was introduced in 1864. Other early yellow roses were Mrs. Aaron Ward, Lady Hillingdon, and Souvenir de Claudius Pernet. A favorite yellow in 1916 was Sunburst, but it wasn’t the best yellow.
Some roses were better known at certain times of the year. Some were spring roses, others fall or winter. Richmond was the best red rose at Christmas.
In the early years, American Beauty, Bride and Bridesmaid were the only roses commonly seen at florist shops. However in time, people tired of them and looked for other roses. It wasn’t to say they were bad roses, they just fell victim to the changing tastes of the public. Starting in the 1920s, hybrid teas pretty well dominated the florist rose market which continues to this day.
During the 1930s, some of the most popular florist roses were the yellow Captain Glisson, red Peerless, yellow blend Yellow Dot, and the pink Sweet Adeline. Captain Glisson proved to be a valuable breeding rose as it was used to produce several florist varieties. In the 1940s, there were several florist roses that hit the market including the yellows Barbara Mason, Yellow Beauty, and Nuggets; the reds Coral Sea, Glamour Girl, Hill Crest, Lucile Supreme, Red Delicious, Spitfire and its sport Spitfire Improved; and the pinks Jean MacArthur (named for the wife of General MacArthur), Mrs. Jeannette G. Leeds, Peter’s Briarcliff, and Rosy Glow. During the 1950s, some floribundas made their way into the florist market including White Garnette, Feurio, and Fire Opal. Hybrid teas from the 1950s include the yellow Alice Manley, red Christmas Cheer, white Halo, and pink Pink Glow.