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).