Monday, January 3, 2011

Fancy name belies rose's hardy nature

The fragrant and carefree Louis Philippe rose blooms continually, even in cold weather

Simply Living
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel January 2, 2011)

The low-maintenance, disease-resistant and sweet-smelling Louis Philippe rose practically grows itself.

Unseasonably cold weather has wreaked havoc with my more tropical landscape plants. Several varieties of ginger have lost leaves, as have hibiscus bushes, cassias and even one of our golden rain trees.

Flower-studded ground covers such as wedelia, impatiens and zebrina (wandering Jew) also succumbed to the cold. Overnight they turned into soggy black mats, while colorful accent plants such as Mexican petunias morphed into skeletal images of their former selves.

One botanical bright light remains in my otherwise freeze-dulled landscape: an antique rose with a fancy name — Rosa "Louis Philippe." Even when frost blanketed the ground and icicles dangled from crape myrtle seedpods, this hardy bloomer remained unscathed. It continued to produce a headdress of ruby red flowers.

I've been growing this particular rose for more than 20 years, but it would be misleading to suggest that I was responsible for its success. Louis Philippe roses belong to the category of plants I like best – independent cultivars that don't require much attention.

Named in honor of Louis XVIII of France, the rose was introduced to North America in 1834. Lorenzo de Zavala, Mexico's minister to France and a Texas colonialist, received rose plants as a gift when his service ended. His wife, Emily, an avid gardener, planted the roses alongside the front porch of their home in Lynchburg, Texas.

I'm sure the flowers looked lovely next to Emily's house, and the heady fragrance must have perfumed the rooms, but I wouldn't want to copy her example. Like most roses, the Louis Philippe has thorns. It also spreads. Left alone, this sweet-smelling ever-bloomer expands annually until it eventually fills a 7- to 8-foot wide area. It also will grow upward.
Although not technically a climbing rose, this is one strong-willed, determined beauty. A few years back my son planted a cutting he had rooted (Louis Philippe roses are also extremely easy to propagate) beneath a pine tree. The rose now stretches up into the lower branches. It's at least 10 feet tall.

Although I have been growing this cultivar for two decades, I didn't learn its name until this past summer, when a customer at our bamboo nursery pointed it out.

"I love your Louis Philippe roses," the customer said, as she stood next to a sprawling specimen we had supposedly confined within a bamboo fence.

"Is that what it's called?" I asked. "I always assumed it was a knockout rose."

"Oh, no," she said. "It's an antique rose. Very fragrant. Very hardy. It's definitely a Louis Philippe."

My customer knew roses the way I know bamboos. I wrote down the name, and after she left I hurried to my office to look it up online.

Although my research confirmed her pronouncement, I quickly learned that one rose could have many names. Some people call it crown rose, while others know it as Florida rose, Florida cracker rose, cracker rose or antique china rose. Regardless of its label, Rosa "Louis Philippe" has been a popular addition to Southern landscapes for the same reasons I find it so endearing.

"It is considered a continuous bloomer because it produces flowers over such an extended period. It has a sweet fragrance and has good disease resistance," according to

The website of Seminole Springs Antique Rose and Herb Farm in Eustis adds a culinary perspective: "The flowers of Louis Philippe are deliciously scented and are great to use in the kitchen for rose syrups, rose water or just as a cut flower."

It's easy to see why this bush rose receives so much praise — especially in Florida after an early winter freeze. Many flowers have qualities that make them appealing, but few have as many desirable attributes as this common rose with the fancy name.


  1. I came here by way of twitter. :)

    I've always had one of these roses in my world..I love how free spirited and resilient they are! Often from my garden, to a vase, in a painting, to potpourri..I cherished each petal!
    Sadly, some years back I lost the one I had at this home. I didn't know the they were always just there or a gift from someone else's garden. My family always called them a cracker roses..or cemetery roses.

    I hope to find another one as my garden is simply not the same without one. So I thank you very much for sharing the name!!

    Good and creative energies to you,


  2. Hi Morri! Welcome to my blog and to my twitter site. I'm glad you found me and am happy to have helped you learn the name of the rose. That's how I felt when the customer to our nursery told me the name. If you are in Central FL, please stop by. I'd be more than happy to give you a cutting. As you probably know, Louis Philippe roses root easily from cuttings.