October 3, 2009

Roses, Virus and William Shakespeare

When things go well with roses, no other flower can compare. Especially with David Austin's english roses, like 'William Shakespeare 2000', pictured above and below. Despite it's young age - I planted this shrub earlier this year - it gave me quite a few scrumptious blooms throughout the summer.

Is this rose red or crimson or pink? All three, depending on the day. It smells exactly the way a rose should smell, or so my friend Robyne said when I made her sniff it. Old rose fragrance + deep crimson coloring + english rose shape = Romance with a captial 'R'.

Unfortunately, when things go wrong with roses, they can go Wrong with a capital 'W'. Above is a picture of the star-crossed 'LD Braithwaite', another red english rose that arrived at my doorstep with an incurable virus. At first I couldn't figure out what was causing the strange yellow coloring on the leaves. I've seen iron deficiency (chlorosis) before, but this didn't look like that.

I studied pictures of rose virus like this one, but wasn't sure of the diagnosis until I emailed my pictures to Dr. Malcolm Manners, a rose expert and horticulture professor at Florida Southern College. He confirmed that it was virus, a 'classic case' with dramatic coloring.

Apparently a huge percentage of grafted roses have been infected with rose viruses that were carried by the rootstocks (grafting seems to be the only way to spread the virus). I read some estimates that a few years ago, nearly all of the roses sold in the US were infected with rose viruses, though many of them didn't exhibit dramatic symptoms like mine. Viruses reduce the vigor of roses even when the leaves aren't discolored, and there isn't any way for home gardeners to cure the problem. Reportedly, rose companies are cleaning up their stock now, and own-root roses rarely have viruses.

After sending a few emails and a bunch of pictures and Dr. Manner's diagnosis, David Austin Roses finally agreed to replace the rose next spring at no charge. Meanwhile I'm enjoying my friend Shannon's 3 'LD Braithwaite' roses, none of which appear to have a virus. I'm looking forward to more healthy red roses for arrangements like the patriotic one above, with true-blue delphinium and Meidilland White roses (another favorite of mine).


  1. Your red roses are so beautiful! I'm not sure what to the call color either :-) I am glad the you will get your rose bush replaced.

  2. Hi VW~~ Beautiful William... oh so romantic.

    I attempted Braithwaite several years ago. Unfortunately the mildew was intolerable. It seems the newer roses are better able to hold off the diseases but I know what you mean about the dreaded virus. Heirloom Roses in St. Paul Oregon sells own-root roses that are guaranteed virus free. It's probably a good thing my backyard isn't any bigger or I'd keep adding more and more...

    Love the red, white and blue bouquet with the true blue delphinium and a touch of pink in the bottom left corner. :]

  3. Hi VW, I am so glad David Austin is willing to replace the rose. I love the full bloom of the William Shakespeare.
    I had a graft revert to the rose stock on which the DA was grafted. The DA just died back and the root stock took off. It got moved to the back of the yard....then a vole got it.
    I am thinking that the next David Austin I buy will be one that is on its own root stock. Think Graham Thomas is one. Will have to do my homework before I buy.
    Your bouquet is lovely.

  4. It's wonderful the company will replace your rose. Hopefully it will not be infected.

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  6. I'm glad you were able to get your rose replaced. What's that old saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know!" Doesn't ever hurt to ask..you did your homework. Move to the front of the class. You get A+ for your research and efforts!

  7. very charming..as i love the colour and have just bought both of them..


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