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Green Rose: Symbol of hope and freedom

Unusual flower has ties to Underground Railroad

Green rose
A ray of January sunshine illuminates a Green Rose. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Horticulturists ridiculed it. Abolitionists wore it proudly. Wherever it grew, the Green Rose got noticed.

Passed down from one generation of gardeners to the next, this unique flower has come to mean freedom, resilience, hope and friendship. And its American story continues to inspire.

Officially named Rosa chinensis ‘Viridiflora,’ the Green Rose is unlike any other. The “petals” are actually modified sepals, packed into a tight cluster about the size of a golf ball. Tinged with pink or bronze, the flowers look as green as the plant’s foliage. Locally, it is grown in historic rose collections in Sacramento and Woodland as well as rose lovers' own gardens.

The original Green Rose most likely was a sport, a natural mutation. Truly asexual, the flowers have no pollen and never form hips or seed. The only way to propagate it is through rooted cuttings, which is how American gardeners have shared this rose for two centuries.

Classified as a China rose, Viridiflora may have its origins in ancient China. Something that looks similar to a green rose can be seen in Chinese paintings (but it may be a green mum).

Several green roses with reddish highlights
Green Rose flowers are often tinged with pink or

Rose expert Stephen Scanniello, co-author of “A Rose by Any Name” (Algonquin Books), suggests that the American Green Rose may have originated in South Carolina or Georgia. Nursery records trace the Green Rose to Charleston in 1833; that’s when plants were sent north to Philadelphia. In 1843, a cotton merchant planted Viridiflora at his country house in Savannah, where it grows to this day.

Plant critics were never fond of the Green Rose; they called it “a green-eyed monster.”

But according to legend, the Green Rose became popular with abolitionists, who planted it in their gardens as a sign of welcome to escaped slaves. Members of the Underground Railroad wore the distinctive flower as a signal to one another.

“The Green Rose of Furley Hall,” a 1953 historical novel by Helen Corse Barney, recounts the story of her Quaker ancestor, William Corse, a Baltimore nurseryman and abolitionist who planted Viridiflora at his home. That book revived interest in what had become a horticultural curiosity.

Beyond the Underground Railroad, Viridiflora found another niche. In the language of flowers, a green rose symbolizes rejuvenation or abundance. With its unique appearance and long-lasting quality as a cut flower, Viridiflora became popular with floral designers. That’s a distinction it still holds.

For all these reasons, the Green Rose endures. It comes down to love.

Mountain Valley Growers, which propagates the Green Rose for sale, describes it this way:

“This plant only exists due to the kindness and love of gardeners who take cuttings and make more roses. It often has great sentimental value to those who grow it because it may have been a gift from a friend. Considering it is first recorded in the mid 1800s, that is a lot of love keeping a sterile rose with no real rose flower going.”

To order a Green Rose:


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For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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