Roses and Fragrance


By Sharon Radice Moore, Past President, Desert Rose Society








Roses secrete fragrance (often referred to as volatile oils) from glands on the lower petal surfaces (and leaf surfaces as with R.eglanteria) and the bristly glands of moss roses. Genetics, sunshine (duration and intensity), temperature, humidity, soil pH, water, wind, time of day and disease (mildew can cause a loss of scent) are all factors in the production of fragrance. Warm, sunny weather releases the maximum amount of volatile oils. Humidity helps prolong the scent by reducing the rate of evaporation. However, wind and too much intense sunlight can have the opposite effect.


While there are few components in our veneration of the rose more compelling then fragrance, our individual olfactory senses perceive it differently, even in intensity, making it very difficult to rate with any clarity. However, like wine, rose fragrance has many identifiable scents and combinations. N.F. Miller classified them into seven basic scents: rose (classic old garden), nasturtium, orris (iris root) or tea, apple, lemon, violet and clove. However, there are also other citrus notes (orange, grapefruit), more floral (magnolia, lily of the valley, hyacinth, marigold, sweet pea), some additional fruits (raspberry, banana, apricot, quince, melon, currants), more spices (bay, anise, pepper), greenery (clover, green tea, parsley, fern, moss), musk, linseed oil, honey, ginger and myrrh.


In addition, color appears to play an important role in determining fragrance. Purplish roses are believed to be better for fragrance as a group than others. Often red and pink roses exude an old garden rose scent, while yellows and whites have tea, nasturtium, violet and lemon in common. Orange shades, often described as spicy and fruity, have notes of tea, nasturtium, violet and lemon.


Generally, darker roses with many heavy petals and a velvety sheen will prove more fragrant then those with lighter tones and fewer petals. However, any rose on a warm and sunny morning when it is one-quarter to two-thirds open, will be its most fragrant and enjoyable. Also, some entire classifications of roses are renowned for fragrance: Noisettes, Hybrid Rugosas, English Roses, Damasks, Hybrid Perpetuals and Hybrid Gallicas make up this group. Of course there are some within each classification that are considered “most fragrant” and others simply fragrant.


Considering the many factors involved in determining the world’s most fragrant roses, anyone can see that it is a daunting task. However, there are many national and international organizations that have taken on the challenge and award medals or bestow honorable designations upon their choices. The roses listed below have received one of these honors. While there are some that may seem unfamiliar to you, all are still in commerce. I urge you to visit to learn more about them and where they can be purchased. Note: Do to space limitations, I have only included those awarded after 1985 or those awarded earlier that continue to be popular.


As well, inquiring of Rose Society Consulting Rosarians, other rose gardeners and nurseries in your area can also give you some insight into what might prove to be the “most fragrant” in your garden. I warn you, this can lead to some very thorny discussions!






Midas Touch – HT, Deep Yellow

Molineux – S, Deep Yellow

Mister Lincoln – HT, Dark Red

Papa Meilland – HT, Dark Red

Paul Shirville – HT, Orange Pink

Perdita – S, Apricot Blend

Pristine – HT, White

Regatta – HT, Light Pink

Rosemary Harkness – HT,

Orange Pink

Royal Amethyst – HT, Mauve

Sally’s Rose – HT, Pink Blend

Scentimental – F, Red Blend

Scepter’d Isle – S, Light Pink

Secret – HT, Pink Blend

Sheer Bliss – HT, White

Sheila’s Perfume – F, Yellow Blend

Silver Star – HT, Mauve

Sun Sprinkles – Min, Deep Yellow

Sunsprite – F, Deep Yellow

Sutter’s Gold – HT, Orange Blend

Sweet Chariot – Min, Mauve

Sweet Juliet – S, Apricot Blend

Tiffany – HT, Pink Blend

Toulouse Lautrec – HT, Med Yellow

Valencia – HT, Apricot Blend

Velvet Fragrance – HT, Dark Red

Yves Piaget – HT, Medium Pink

Angel Face – F. Mauve

Baronne Edmond de Rothschild – HT, Red Blend

Charlotte Rampling – HT, Dark Red

Chrysler Imperial – HT, Dark Red

City of London – F, Light Pink

Compassion – LCl, Orange Pink

Crimson Glory – HT, Dark Red

Declic – LCl, Lilac Pink

Double Delight – HT, Red Blend

Elizabeth of Glamis – F, Orange Pink

Elle – HT, Pink Blend

Evelyn – S, Apricot Blend

Fire Fighter - HT, Red

Fourth of July – LCl, Red Blend

Fragrant Cloud – HT, Orange Red

Fragrant Delight – F, Orange Pink

Fragrant Hour – HT, Orange Pink

Fragrant Plum – Gr, Mauve

Frederic Mistral – HT, Light Pink

Gertrude Jekyll – S, Medium Pink

Golden Celebration – S, Deep Yellow

Granada (Donatella) – HT, Red Blend

Honey Perfume – F, Apricot Blend

Jardins de Bagatelle – HT, White

Jude the Obscure – S, Med Yellow

Lady Emma Hamilton – S, Orange Blend

Lamarque – N, White

Melody Parfumee – Gr, Mauve

Memorial Day – HT, Medium Pink

I love to watch visitors in a rose garden. Each person has his or her own unique approach to the individual bushes; some stand back, others lean forward and some circle the bush slowly and carefully. You will see admiration if not adoration of color, bloom size, number of petals, foliage, health, growth, and the mysterious, often mythical catalyst of “scent memories”


F: Floribunda
Gr: Grandiflora
HT: Hybrid Tea


N: Noisette
Min: Mini
S: Shrub (also Austin’s English Roses)

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