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Roses and Fragrance


By Sharon Radice Moore, Past President, Desert Rose Society

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”  -  FRAGRANCE.

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 than fragrance, our individual olfactory senses perceive it differently, even in intensity, making it difficult to rate with any clarity. However, like wine, rose fragrance has 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), 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 that 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 (or are deserving of such honor.)  I urge you to visit to learn more about them and where they can be purchased. As well, inquiring of 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!


Angel Face  F (m)

Charlotte Rampling  HT (dr)

Chrysler Imperial  HT (dr)

City of London  F (lp)

Compassion  LCl (op)

Crimson Glory  HT (dr)

Double Delight  HT (rb)

Elizabeth of Glamis  FL (op)

Elle  HT (pb)

Evelyn  S (ab)

Falling in Love  HT (pb)

Firefighter  HT (dr)

Fourth of July  LCl (rb)

Fragrant Cloud  HT (or)

Fragrant Delight  F (op)

Fragrant Plum  Gr (m)

Frederic Mistral  HT (lp)

Gertrude Jekyll  S (mp)

Granada (Donatella)  HT (rb)

Honey Perfume  F (ab)

Jardins de Bagatelle  HT (w)

Jude the Obscure  S (my)

Lady Emma Hamilton  S (ob)

Lamarque  N (w)

Louise Estes  HT (pb)

Melody Parfumée  Gr (m)

Memorial Day  HT (mp) 

Midas Touch  HT (dy)



Symbol Guide:   F-Floribunda    Gr-Grandiflora     HT-Hybrid Tea

LCl-Large-flowered Climber   Min-Miniature   N-Noisette   S-Shrub


Color Guide:

ab - apricot & apricot blend

dr - dark red    

dp - deep pink    

dy - deep yellow     

lp - light pink    

ly - light yellow              

m - mauve & mauve blend

mp - medium pink        

mr - medium red

my - medium yellow 

Mister Lincoln  HT (dr)

Molineaux  S (dy)

Neil Diamond  HT  (pb)

Papa Meilland  HT (dr)

Paul Shirville  HT (op)

Perdita  S (ab)

Pristine  HT (w)

Regatta  HT (lp)

Rosemary Harkness  HT (op)

Royal Amethyst  HT (m)

Sally’s Rose  HT (pb)

Scentimental  F (rb)

Scepter’d Isle  S (lp)

Secret  HT (pb)

Sheer Bliss  HT (w)

Sheila’s Perfume  F (yb)

Silver Star  HT (m)

Sugar Moon  HT (w)

Sun Sprinkles  Min (dy)

Sunsprite  F (dy)

Sutter’s Gold  HT (ob)

Sweet Chariot  Min (m)

Tiffany  HT (pb)

Toulouse-Latrec  HT (my)

Valencia  HT (ab)

Velvet Fragrance  HT (dr)

Wild Blue Yonder  Gr (m)

Yves Piaget  HT (mp)


ob - orange & orange blend

op - orange-pink & orange-pink blend

or - orange-red & orange-red blend

rb - red blend  

r - russet      

w - white, near white & white blend     

yb - yellow blend            

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