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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
bronze.

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:
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/rosviridiflora.htm

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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