Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
One of the things that I love about heirloom roses are the amazing stories behind some of them. Take rosa mundi, for instance. There is a legend that it was named for the mistress of the King of England, King Henry II (ruled 1154 to 1189) who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. As was common in those days, theirs was an arranged marriage. Nonetheless, Eleanor became jealous of her husband’s mistress, who was born Jane Clifford, but became known as Fair Rosamund thanks to her great beauty.
Eleanor decided to rid herself of her rival. It is said that she poisoned Rosamund using an oil made from the Apothecary’s Rose and Rosa Alba, a white rose. After Rosamund’s death, a new rose, with red and white stripes appeared outside of the castle where she had lived. It was named Rosa Mundi in her honor. Every year, Henry decorated her tomb with flowers from the new rose.
What is Rosa Mundi?
Rosa Mundi (Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’) is an ancient rose native to Europe. It is a sport of the famous Apothecary’s Rose (Rosa gallica). A “sport” is a genetic mutation that happens spontaneously (no human intervention) and changes the color or shape of part of a plant such as its leaves or flowers. The sport can be a result of naturally occurring changes in the cells of the plant or by changes in its environment such as extreme temperature fluctuations.
Rosa mundi is hardy in zones 4 - 11. It is a compact rose growing 3’ to 4’ tall and makes an excellent hedge. The branches have very few thorns. The flowers are semi-double and striped white and dark pink or crimson. They have a typical old rose fragrance. Rosa mundi flowers once a year in the late spring. Rose hips, beloved of birds, develop in the fall. Like most heirloom roses, rosa mundi is disease resistant
How to Grow Rosa Mundi
Rosa mundi is easy to grow like its parent. It will tolerate shade and poor soil. The soil does have to be well-drained. Mine grows next to my shed which gets only a few hours of sunlight each day. The rose spreads by suckering. A sucker is an offshoot of a plant, the result of the growth of an underground stolen. You should remove suckers because as their name implies, they suck water and nutrients from the parent shrub. Heirloom roses have a tendency to sucker freely and can become invasive, taking over your garden.
How to Prune Rosa Mundi
An initial pruning can be done in very early spring. Remove dead or dying canes only at this time. Any dead leaves, branches or other brush should be removed from under your bush to prevent the spread of insects and disease.
Regular pruning should be done after your rose has finished blooming but no later than late summer. It blooms on old wood which means that the buds for next year’s flowers grow this year. If you prune before the rosebush blooms, you will be pruning off the buds.
To shape your rose, cut the top branches down by one third and side branches by two thirds.
How to Grow Rosa Mundi From Cuttings
Woody plants are normally very difficult to grow from cuttings. Thanks to its tendency to sucker, rosa mundi is easy to grow from cuttings.
After your rose has finished blooming, take a 6 to 8 inch cutting from a healthy branch. Remove the foliage from the bottom half of the cutting and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. You can skip this step if you want. Your cutting will root without it. The rooting hormone just speeds up the growth of roots. You can root your cutting directly in your garden like pussy willow. Take a dowel or a pencil and make a hole in the soil and stick your cutting up to the halfway point into the hole. Keep the soil moist. Roots should begin to form in 8 to 12 weeks. You will know that roots are growing because your cutting will be growing new leaves. Plants without roots cannot grow new leaves. If you are growing your cutting in a nursery bed, you can transplant it into your garden in the fall or the following spring.
How to Grow Rosa Mundi From Layering
Layering is a popular technique to propagate woody plants. In the late spring or early summer while your rosebush is actively growing, choose a young, flexible stem and gently bend it to the ground. Dig a shallow hole where it touches the soil. Take a sharp knife and make a shallow cut in the stem above the hole and dip it in rooting hormone. This is where the roots will grow from. Bend the stem into the hole and fill the hole with soil.
To prevent your stem from popping out of the hole, you will need to anchor it. You can use a rock. The best solution is to use the pins that you use to anchor your floating row covers in your vegetable garden.
Keep the soil moist. Roots should begin to form in 6 to 8 weeks. You will know that new roots are growing because your stem will start growing new leaves. Wait another 4 weeks for your stem to grow a healthy, good sized root ball. After that 4 weeks, you simply sever the stem from the bush and carefully dig up the rooted section. You can transplant your new plant to its permanent home in your garden.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on September 15, 2014:
Heirloom roses are my favorite. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Jim from Kansas on September 15, 2014:
What interesting history. We just don't have many heirloom roses to choose from around here. This one would make a beautiful hedge.
Caren White (author) on June 08, 2014:
I have read that it can "sport" back to Rosa gallica officinalis. How wonderful that you witnessed it in your garden! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Sharon Vile from Odessa, MO on June 08, 2014:
This is one of my favorite old roses! I started out with one Rosa Mundi, but it suckered to turn into two roses--one of which sported back to Rosa gallica officinalis. So now I have one of each--until they both spread some more and can be divided again.
Caren White (author) on June 07, 2014:
I love the legends associated with heirloom flowers. Thanks for reading!
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 07, 2014:
What a colorful history for such a beautiful flower!