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In the gardening and rose books I have they talk about different types of roses - hybrid, damask, china, tea, etc. They give a brief history of each rose type and a couple of pictures, but generally little or no description.

Is it in fact possible to determine a roses "type" or "class" just by looking at it, and if so, what are the characteristics of the different types? (Even "climbing" seems like a fairly ambiguous type, and you'd think that'd be a clear definition.)

  • Is there something you would like me to add to my answer? – J. Musser Feb 11 '15 at 16:07
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There are many types of roses. I'll list a few here that are more common in modern times, with identifying features.

  • Hybrid Tea: These are the result of crossing hybrid perpetuals with tea roses. These are upright, robust plants with long cane growth and less branching than some. Thorniness varies. The flowers are large, usually single, with high centers. The bloom size and quality comes from the tea side, and the repeat blooming came from the hybrid perpetual side. Almost always grafted.

  • Floribunda These were the result of crossing polyantha roses with hybrid teas. These are more dense, twiggy, and rigid than the parents. The flowers are borne in clusters or sprays, and are smaller than hybrid tea blooms, but can be very similar in shape. Often allowed to grow on their own roots.

  • China: Based on Rosa chinensis. These are smaller, thorny shrubs, twiggy and stiff. The fragrance is typically less powerful than in European roses. The flowers are borne in clusters, are single or double, and more flat than the hybrid tea. Often grafted to disease resistant stock.

  • Grandiflora: These are large, wide shrubs that grow larger than floribunda or hybrid tea. They are more open than many shrub roses. The flowers are like hybrid teas, but often less pointed, and borne in long-stemmed clusters. Usually not grafted.

  • Climbing: There are many types of climbing rose, but they typically have much longer, more flexible canes than shrub roses, and while they can be trained as a sprawling shrub, they prefer to be supported. The flowers are very variable, small to large, with many shapes and types of carriage. Sometimes grafted, but not generally.

  • Rugosa: These are large, dense shrubs often used for hedges, which are disease resistant and resilient. They are used for hip production. The flowers may be single or double, and are smaller and more flat than floribunda blooms, in general. They were derived from Rosa rugosa. Not usually grafted.

  • Miniature: These are usually based on old English roses, and are developed to stay around 24" or lower. Grown on their own roots in general.

  • Moss: Branched resinous hairs on the sepals give off pleasant odors when rubbed. These are usually small to mid-sized open shrubs. Often grafted.

  • Knock Out®: These are popular enough that they have their own listing here. They are shorter, tidy shrubs, bred for low maintenance landscaping. They are disease resistant, self deadheading, and grow in less than optimal soil. The flowers can be double or single, and are borne in clusters. Grown on their own roots.

  • Damask: These are older, double, flat roses, with long, flexible canes and a sprwling habit. The flowers are full of petals, wider than high, and very fragrant. Often grafted.

  • Bourbon: Rangy, semi-climbing shrubs with large, repeat blooming flowers on strong, canes. The thorns are often less fierce on these roses. They're usually grown on their own roots. The flowers are double, flat and fragrant.

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This is a general answer, due to the large range of rose types.

There are a number of resources, in print and online that can help with the identification of roses by inspection of its features. The features used by these websites are narrowed down to a handful of characteristics that can be used, with practice, to identify types of roses.

One in particular, is the EveryRose: The Rose Reference Database search function, which emphasises the features to identify the features of roses including:

  • bloom colour - including shading and patterns that may be present.
  • plant height and width - at different stages of growth of the plant.
  • growth habit - defined on the website as describing the shape of the plant - e.g. bushy, climbing etc.
  • bloom season - what season/conditions will result in flowering
  • fragrance - how strong is the fragrance.

Individually, these are vague, but together they narrow it down, that's when the narrowed down choices need to be inspected by eye to identify the type of rose.

Another example is from the website, Roger's Roses for identification of roses that also uses similar classifications as the EveryRose site, but also include the characteristic of which USDA zone(s) the rose is able to grow in (for American users).

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It's a complicated matter! Probably best to start in a different place than the moss/china stuff, so begin with a general, broad classification. Ask yourself is it a hybrid tea (pointed buds, usually repeat flowering, mostly a bush), is it a floribunda (carries its flowers in trusses with several blooms open at one time in each truss, mostly a bush), is it a climber (long, stiff stems, usually repeat flowering) or a rambler (long pliable stems, smaller flowers than a climber held in trusses, flowering all at once, non repeating, usually). Then there's the Miniatures and Shrub roses - shrub roses are somewhere between hybrid tea and floribunda, usually making quite large shrubs - miniatures usually reach around 15 inches. Groundcover roses, as the name suggests, are usually around a foot high, but have a wide spread.

If you can decide which of these groups the rose you're looking at falls into, then you're on the way to possibly making an ID, when other features such as thorniness, shape and colour of thorns, foliage colour, glossiness of leaf, shape, colour and prickliness of hips, shape of flower, shape of individual petals (frilled, ruffled, plain, reflexed), number of petals (single, semi double, full double, very full double) and, obviously, colour and fragrance need to be assessed.

Even then, its possible to come across a rose that no one recognises, particularly if its an old variety that's fallen out of fashion. And sometimes it's harder to tell if a rose has been produced as a 'standard' on a long stem because you don't know what shape it makes as a plant without the long stem. There are also roses which have a bush version and a climbing version - and old example would be Cecile Brunner, Climbing, a large (20 feet high and wide) climbing china rose; there's a bush version that's quite dainty, making 2.5 x 2.5 feet.

Whether or not a rose is a damask, china or moss rose might be something you can establish once you've ID'd the plant, if that's important to you.

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