Why are Some Roses Fragrant and Others Aren't?

Why are Some Roses Fragrant and Others Aren't?

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“Of all flowers, methinks a rose is best.” – William Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen

What do you call a Rose by any other name? What about one that smells divinely? Or one with no smell at all?

Unless there’s a bee inside, the first impulse we have when we see a big, voluminous Rose bloom - is to stick our noses in it! The power of fragrance! It can make or break the decision regarding many things! Roses being among them!

Anyone that has recently received a bouquet of flowers from a florist can attest to how little smell they have these days.

In our search for bigger, more colorful, fuller, and faster growing Roses, we may have inadvertently bred out this highly desirable trait!

The Science of Rose Fragrance

Long before humans began mixing Roses to create the dizzying array that is available to the consumer these days, Roses had a single layer of petals, and pretty green foliage, but morebeautiful fresh pink rose bush importantly - most of them smelled wonderful! Enough to spark the imaginations of artists and poets alike for centuries.

Roses and all flowers that have scent do so because of volatile oils. Volatile, not because they may burst into flames at any moment, but because they quickly evaporate in the heat of the sun and when exposed to air. The aroma is due to a gene that triggers an enzyme called RhNUDX1 and this chemical makes cells in Rose petals produce a chemical called monoterpene geraniol

Roses and other flowers produce scents mostly to attract pollinators for that ever-important purpose of pollination! The time of day and age of the bloom will affect how strong thebee pollinating a rose fragrance is. Some Roses have a stronger scent due to the presence of more of these chemicals and other naturally produced essential oils, produced within glands on the undersides of the petals. While some of the smell comes from the stamen as well.

The smell can range from damask and floral, maybe fruity like berries, or musky to citrusy, from honeyed and sweet, to licorice, spiced and herbal, to just plain fresh. They can be violet-like, or described as smelling like orrisroot (Iris rhizomes), sweet clover, or fresh hay.

Why Roses Are Losing Their Perfume

While some Roses have been bred specifically for their fragrance, others have been bred for other characteristics such as size, disease resistance, specific colors, and other factors that maygardener cutting white roses inadvertently switch off this gene that makes them create those enzymes and fragrant chemicals.

The way a Rose or fragrant flower is handled after picking it can also affect how they smell. Rose breeders in the floral industry need big, showy blooms that can handle being transported for days after being cut. They’re also breeding Roses with fewer to no thorns, can last longer in the vase and have longer stems and larger blooms. Unfortunately, the trade-off is that luxurious fragrance!

Plus, the more (much-needed) disease resistance that is being bred into these blooms, the more we’re seeing a decrease in their smell.

So is the trade-off worthwhile? 

How to Best Preserve Your Roses Fragrance

Rose breeders are also making a point to get back to basics. Creating new breeds and improving old ones, so we can enjoy the best of both worlds! Wild-Rose scent and hardiness, old-worldnaturehills.com scentimental rose beauty, and combined with modern resistance!

Luckily, modern and antique Rose bushes that are grown in your own garden, especially if you do not spray them with lots of artificial fertilizer and pesticides, still have a great scent!

Check out all the fragrant Roses available at Nature Hills, including many that are considered among the most fragrant like Scentimental, Mr. Lincoln, Tiffany, Rugosa Roses, Chrysler Imperial, and Fourth of July Climbing Rose, just to name a few.

Choosing a Rose bush that is fragrant is only half the battle. Roses can smell stronger or weaker depending on the time of day, depending on the age of the bloom, and even smell better or stronger from year to year as weather, temperature, moisture, and nutrient availability also come into play.

Clues a Rose Will Smell Good!

Besides buying a Rose that is well-known for its scent, here are a few other indicators that may let you know that the Rose you are about to stick your nose in will be fragrant!

  • More petals = more scent. Remember, the glands that make the oils are in the petals peach rose bush with a lot of petals
  • Darker Roses often have increased perfume
  • The Rose color can often determine its fragrance profile. 
    • Red and pink generally have a more traditional Rose smell
    • White and yellow are often spicy, licorice and citrus
    • Many orange and peachy Roses are very sweet and/or fruity

Plus, there may be some truth to the saying “The most beautiful Roses sometimes have the sharpest thorns” because these more wild and defensive shrubs have something worthwhile to protect!

Smelling, Snipping Cut Flowers, and Harvesting Rose Petal Do’s and Don’t’s

Whether you are outside for a stroll through your garden to smell the Roses, snipping flowers for your bouquets and floral arrangements, or harvesting the blooms and petals for potpourri, Rosewater, for health and beauty, making tea or preserves, for crafts, and dried décor, follow these few simple tips to enjoy their scent at its highest.

All About Timing

dark purple rose just beginning to bloom

  • Smell, snip blooms, or pluck petals when the buds are just beginning to open
  • The strongest fragrance is around mid-morning to very early afternoon
  • Wait to pick or harvest after the dew has dried

Sometimes It’s The Weather

elderly woman cutting roses on sunny day

  • Choose a warm, clear, sunny day
  • Get out in the garden before the hot midday sun causes the oils to evaporate
  • Rain and chilly, damp weather can decrease fragrance

Good Scent Sense

  • Snip with clean shears to stop the spread of disease from one bush to another gardener watering roses at the roots
  • Roses affected by disease or powdery mildew tend to lose their fragrance temporarily
  • Drought and insufficient moisture will greatly decrease the fragrance
  • Use organic fertilizers and pesticides, and avoid spraying the blooms
  • Avoid getting the flowers and leaves wet when watering - water at the roots
  • Mulch over the root system helps prevents soil born diseases

Preserving Fragrance in Cut Flowers & Petals

  • Remove any foliage that will fall below the water line cleanly coral roses in vase with fresh water
  • Cut the stems at an angle and plunge them immediately into cool, clean water
  • Harvest cut flowers or petals after the morning dew has dried
  • Keep cut flower water very clean, refreshing it every day
  • Keep petals and blooms out of the sun and away from heat
  • Dry petals right away in a dehydrator or other method, don’t wait

Ensuring The Best Perfume and Performance!

In addition to the above tips and tricks, the best way to enjoy the most fragrance from your Rose is to keep it happy and healthy!

While Roses of old were considered fussy and difficult, it really comes down to proper site selection in the first place!

  • Plant a Rose that is rated for your climate and USDA growing zone planting yellow roses
  • Situate the Rose in full sun, with a focus on receiving morning sun to quickly dry dew
  • Choose a location with good Air Circulation
  • Plant Roses in enriched, highly-organic, well-drained soil that never gets soggy
  • Provide a 3-4 inch thick layer of compost and/or arborist mulch chips over the roots
  • Give them regular moisture access. Nature Hills recommends the ‘finger-test’ method
  • Don’t let Roses suffer through drought or hot summers without supplemental moisture
  • Water only at the roots and keep their area clean and sanitary
  • Fertilizer regularly with a quality organic, slow-release fertilizer.
  • Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, like those for lawns. Keep them far away from Roses!

Stop And Smell The Roses!

There are Roses… and then there are ROSES! Every shrub has a purpose in todays landscapes, and choosing the right shrub for your needs is almost as important as how it smells. Whilesenior woman smelling yellow roses those garden workhorses and landscaping Shrub Roses serve their purpose as edging, color, backdrops, hedges, defensive barriers, and property definition, there’s nothing quite like having one frou-frou fragrant Rose that is there to just look - and smell - pretty!

Check back often and visit your garden at different times of the day and on different days to find when your Roses smell and look the best! Then visit NatureHills.com on a regular basis to see all the exciting new Rose cultivars that are being made available as growers are tirelessly working to breed the perfume back into our most beloved flower - The Rose!

Happy Planting!

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