By UCCE Master Gardener, Christina Oborn.
The just-concluded Coulterville Heritage Rose Tour in North County is a good time to remind us South County folks that we too have this tangible link to pioneer history. Mariposa County’s legacy roses have been found in abandoned homesteads, next to old miner’s cabins and ranch homes, on town historic home sites and empty lots. Known for their hardiness and fragrance, many of the County’s old roses have managed to survive from the 1850s on their own.
How did these old roses get here? Lured by the discovery of gold in 1849 and the promise of economic opportunity, would-be gold prospectors, entrepreneurs, and immigrants arrived and settled in Mariposa County, many with their families. Some brought rose slips with them and shared cuttings with friends and neighbors. A common practice of the times was to plant a rose bush on a family grave in the town cemetery. In the historic town of Coulterville, twenty-seven legacy roses, some known to date from 1817, were identified and in 2010 the Heritage Rose tour became an annual event.
A group of the UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County initiated a Heritage Rose Project in 2018 to find, identify and preserve the historic old roses growing in South County. The group began by concentrating their search in the historic district of Mariposa, encompassing Bullion and Jones streets between 4th and 11th streets. One of the goals of the project is to map the ‘found’ rose locations in the town to be included in a historic walking tour. Another goal is to propagate to preserve the old rose varieties found in South County as part of Mariposa’s history.
The Lamarque rose was in an undeveloped lot in the Mariposa town’s historic district and identified in 2020 by the Heritage Rose Project. The rose originated in Charleston, SC, from a cross between a native rose and a China rose in 1802, eventually giving rise in 1830 to a new class of roses, the Noisette. Another old rose, in the yard of an old Victorian home in the town’s historic district, was climbing 30 feet up an adjacent tree. It was quickly identified as a white Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae) by its nearly thornless canes, white flowers, and enormous height.
The American Rose Society defines an ‘old rose’ as any rose introduced before 1867 but others define old roses as those found in Europe before the late 1700s and ‘antique roses’ as those whose ancestry includes the China Rose (R. Chinensis), brought to Europe in 1792. Fossils show that roses evolved 35 to 70 million years ago, and only in the Northern Hemisphere (Asia, Europe, Middle East, and North America).
Evidence of garden cultivation of roses began about 5,000 years ago. In the 1700s, garden roses from China began to be bred with European native roses, introducing repeat blooming and hardiness. By the 1800s, breeders in the U.S. were exchanging and breeding native roses with those from Europe and China too.
There are approximately 20 native roses in North America. California has several native roses, with Rosa Californica as the best known. It is a pink, five-petaled flowering shrub growing along the coast, in the foothills and in the mountains up to 6,000 feet.
The UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County Heritage Rose group’s objective is to identify and preserve the historic roses of south Mariposa County. If you know of a rose bush that may be a Mariposa heritage rose and would like some help with identification and care, call the UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County Helpline at 209-966-7078.
About UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County
UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County are located at 5009 Fairgrounds Road, Mariposa. For more gardening and event information, visit their website or Facebook page (UC Master Gardeners of Mariposa County).
UC Master Gardeners staff a helpline serving Mariposa County, including Greeley Hill, Coulterville, and Lake Don Pedro. Please contact them at 209-966-7078 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to them on the radio at KRYZ 98.5 FM on Wednesdays at 2 p.m and Saturdays at 5 p.m.
Want to start growing your own roses? Check out this short video!