In praise of plant breeders

Now 92, David Austin introduced his first rose variety in 1961 (“Constance Spry”). His goal was to combine the fragrance and appearance of old-fashioned heirloom roses with the repeat-flowering and color range of modern roses. He calls them English roses, but we mostly call them David Austin roses.

His roses usually have lots of petals all crammed together, the way roses used to have before they were bred for that perfect overlapping-petal look of modern Hybrid Tea roses. Austin’s roses generally are very, very fragrant. In California we have found his roses grow rather more robustly than his catalog descriptions. Give them room.

It’s a remarkable feat that Austin single-handedly created a whole new category of roses, focused attention back onto fragrance, and laid the groundwork for future breeders.

Ralph Moore is another UCD alumnus, who, like Austin, created a whole new category of roses. Moore was never a fan of big-flowered roses (he called them “cabbages on a stick”).

Instead, he began breeding tiny-flowered rose species with bigger hybrids in the 1930s, creating truly miniature plants with perfect miniature flowers. Twenty years later, he patented his first one. By the time he retired on his 101st birthday in 2008, he had introduced about 500 new varieties.

The breadth of genetics he used was wide, as he cast his net to many species in creating his varieties. This leaves a legacy for future breeders to develop even more interesting types.

Read more at Davis Enterprise (Don Shor)


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