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The Intrigue of Colour

Breeding a new Rose : Rose Sports

Rose Sports – Alien Shape-Shifters in Your Garden

by Chrys Stevenson, BA (Hons I)

You don’t have to watch Transformers or Dr Who to see strange mutants or shape-shifters; just look at your rose garden and, in time, you’ll notice that sometimes, roses spontaneously change their DNA and put out ‘alien’ stems, known as sports.

Sports are the result of a genetic mutation which may result in blooms of a different type or colour, flowers with a different blooming pattern to the host plant, or even long stems that, once propagated, form a climbing variety of a standard rose bush. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes more dramatic. Rosearians take advantage of stable sports to produce new varieties of rose. The Climbing Iceberg and the Climbing Blackberry Nip are just two examples of roses which began as sports (genetically different stems growing from a host plant.)

Sometimes, sports are unstable. After surprising you for a season or two, they revert back to the characteristics of the host plant. That explains why that pink or burgundy Climbing Iceberg rose you bought may still produce the odd white flower – or even clusters of white blooms.

David Austin’s beautiful white ’Winchester Cathedral’ and soft pink ‘Redoute’ are stable sports of the original ‘Mary Rose’ which is dark pink.

Striped roses are often the result of sports but, beware, they aren’t always stable, and they may revert to a single colour. Don’t be disappointed! It’s all part of the excitement and uncertainty of growing roses.

It can be hard to identify whether an odd looking rose on your bush is the result of a sport or some other factor. Some blooms naturally fade as they get older, sometimes the ‘rogue’ flower is not from a sport, but a result of the root stock putting out stems. But, if it’s a rose you like, you can try propagating it and you might find you’ve transformed too – into a rose breeder! You could be the next David Austin. *

Further references:
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Chrys Stevenson, BA (Hons I)
Freelance writer, blogger, researcher, presenter