With more than 40,000 named roses in existence, learning about the different types of roses can seem a daunting task. This article breaks down rose classification into a simple, neatly organized guide based on the classification scheme of the American Rose Society, the international authority on rose classification.
The American Rose Society divides all roses into three main groups – species roses, old garden roses, and modern roses — which further break down into 37 classes. Since it is difficult to pin down a comprehensive list of the classes (not even the American Rose Society website offers one), this guide focuses on the three main groups and some of the most common classes within them.
If you’d like your own front yard rose garden, this list will give you the inspiration you need.
Check out my post about creating a gorgeous rose flower garden.
Types of Roses
Species roses, often called wild roses, range from two to 20 feet tall. Their single-petaled blossoms have four to eight petals and bloom only once per season.
Due to the vast number of rose species, plants belonging to this group might be low-growing groundcover, upright shrubs, or even climbers, and the flower color ranges from white to crimson. Most exhibit disease resistance and thrive on minimal maintenance, though some species of roses will be more tolerant of certain conditions than others will.
Species roses are not divided into classes but tend to be grouped by color or USDA hardiness zone. They are typically listed by their Latin name, hence the classification species rose.
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Old garden roses
Old Garden roses are defined as classes dating from before 1867, the year the first hybrid tea rose was introduced. Twenty-two classes exist within this category, based on natural historical developments and characteristics. Old garden roses perfume the garden with their heavy fragrance, and though some only bloom once, the colorful hips lengthen their season of beauty. The flower form and color vary.
Here are some of the most popular classes of old garden roses:
Also called white roses, alba roses have dense, blue-green leaves and an upright, often climbing growth habit. They also tend to be disease-resistant.
Originally from Scotland, Ayrshire roses bloom once per season and have a climbing, sprawling growth habit.
Bourbon roses originate from the Île Bourbon (now Réunion), located in the Indian Ocean. Developed from a cross between the Old Blush China rose and a form of Autumn Damask, they are among the first repeat-flowering roses.
A small class, Boursault consists of once-blooming, mostly thornless, rambling roses developed by French gardener M. Boursault.
Also called cabbage roses, centifolia roses typically have more than 100 petals. These hardy Dutch hybrids grow four to eight feet tall and bloom once per season.
Famous for their repeat blooms, China roses are among the most important historical rose groups. The flowers tend to bloom in clusters, and the stems have few thorns.
Damask roses are known for their heavy fragrance and are valued for their oils. Originally from Asia, they traveled to Europe via Damascus. Roses in this class grow three to six feet high, and some are repeat bloomers.
8. Hybrid China
Typically small, delicate plants, hybrid China roses average just two to three feet tall and require winter protection in colder regions. These repeat-flowering roses have a spicy fragrance.
9. Hybrid gallica
These once-blooming roses have fragrant flowers in brilliant colors. Although small, hybrid gallica roses are winter hardy.
10. Hybrid perpetual
Hybrid perpetual roses grow to about six feet tall and bloom repeatedly with large, sweetly scented, pink or red flowers.
Moss roses get their name from a distinctive moss-like thorn growth below the sepals. These small, somewhat sticky glandular structures smell like pine when rubbed. Typically winter hardy and sometimes repeat blooming, moss roses grow three to six feet tall.
Developed by Philippe Noisette in South Carolina, Noisette roses produce fragrant clusters of flowers. The large, sprawling plants can reach up to 20 feet high.
Named for the Duchess of Portland, these roses are small in both number and size, averaging four feet tall. Portland roses have very short peduncles and bloom repeatedly.
14. Tea roses
Tea roses produce large, drooping, or nodding flowers on weak stems. They have variable heights and include some climbing roses. Tea roses prefer light pruning and are winter tender.
Perhaps unknowingly, French hybridizer Jean-Baptiste Guillot ushered in the era of modern roses with his introduction of the first hybrid tea rose, La France, in 1867. All roses developed since then are categorized as modern roses. Other hybridizers caught on quickly, and more than 10,000 hybrid tea roses had been developed by the end of the 20th century. Here are some of the most popular classes of modern roses:
15. Hybrid tea roses
Possibly the most popular modern roses, hybrid teas bloom repeatedly with large, shapely flowers adorned with 30 to 50 petals. These hardy plants produce single blossoms on long stems, sometimes with side buds.
Floribunda roses are known for their large, colorful, continuous garden displays. Each of the clusters or trusses of blossoms contains more than one blooming flower at any given time. As an added bonus, floribundas are hardy and easy to care for.
The first Grandiflora rose, Queen Elizabeth, was developed in 1954 by crossing a hybrid tea with a floribunda. In addition to exhibiting characteristics of hybrid teas, Grandiflora roses grow six to eight feet high and bloom in clusters or trusses like floribundas.
Although typically on the smaller side, polyantha roses tend to be sturdy plants covered in large clusters of tiny, one-inch blossoms in shades of white or pink.
19. Miniature roses
At only 15 to 30 inches high, miniature roses appear to be tiny hybrid teas or floribundas, with flowers and foliage that appear as miniatures of both classes.
A relatively new class first recognized in 1999, miniflora roses feature intermediate flowers and foliage between the size of miniature and floribunda roses.
21. Shrub (classic and modern)
Easily recognized by their sprawling habit, shrub roses grow five to 15 feet in every direction and produce masses of flowers. These hardy, fragrant plants look like old garden roses but are recurring bloomers.
22. Large-flowered climber, hybrid gigantea, hybrid wichurana
Large-flowered climber, hybrid gigantea, and hybrid wichurana roses feature a wide range of flower colors, forms, and shapes but all have large, arching canes that can climb fences, walls, or trellises if properly trained. The American Rose Society lists these three varieties together.
Whether you hope to plant your own rose garden or simply want to learn more about these classic garden flowers, I hope this guide to different types of roses has helped untangle some of the confusing terminology surrounding the different kinds of roses and inspired a new appreciation for their remarkable diversity.
Don’t want just roses in your garden? Try some of these companion plants for roses.
Serena Manickam is a freelance editor and writer and sustainable market gardener in rural Virginia. She holds a BA in environmental science and runs Fairydiddle Farm, a small market garden in which she grows no-spray produce and herbs to sell at a local farmer’s market.