The Yellow Rose of Texas is thriving north of the 49th parallel.
Since moving to British Columbia’s Okanagan region, I have noticed a beautiful bright yellow rose growing everywhere – in ditches, on hillsides, in people’s gardens. Often forming large mounds six feet tall and least that across, it’s the first rose to bloom here, along with the common pale pink wild rose.
I love a yellow rose (hello, David Austin’s ‘The Pilgrim’), and they’re scarce compared to other rose colours. I had to investigate this roadside beauty so I pulled over the next time I saw the yellow flowers glowing along Princeton Avenue in nearby Peachland.
FYI: Yellow roses weren’t discovered until the 18th century, in Afghanistan and southeast Asia where they grow wild.
The dark green glossy foliage is draped with masses of semi-double lemon yellow roses. Thick sprays of yellow-tipped rosebuds promise many more flowers to come. The fragrance is light and soft. I was intrigued, and had to find out more about this mystery rose, so I put on my dirt-stained detective hat and did some digital digging.
I thought it might be a ‘Lady Banks’ rose but her flower form is looser with some slightly fringed petals. I checked with a local Facebook gardening group, and sure enough, there was a post and conversation about it. Turns out this roadside rose is ‘Harison’s Yellow’ and it has a fascinating story to tell.
The Story of ‘Harison’s Yellow’ Rose
‘Harison’s Yellow’ (R. × harisonii), a rose that Texans celebrate as the ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’, was actually bred circa 1824 in a New York City suburban garden just west of present-day Times Square by an amateur propagator named George Folliott Harison. It is thought he crossed Scotch Briar and Persian Yellow roses to create the first yellow rose in the United States.
Long Island nurseryman William Prince took cuttings and marketed the rose in the 1830s. The Prince catalogue states ‘Harison’s Yellow’ was a “superb double yellow [that] blooms freely and profusely”. It sold for the (in those days) very large sum of $2.
Harison’s has numerous aliases including the incorrect spelling “Harrison’s Yellow”, Rosa harisonii, Oregon Trail Rose, Hogg’s Yellow, Yellow Sweet Brier and, most notably, the Yellow Rose of Texas.
It soon became one of the most popular roses in the US in the mid-1800s, and was carried west in covered wagons, along with treasured garden seeds, by pioneer women wanting to take a small living piece of home with them to grace new dwellings in Texas and the western states. The Oregon Trail is scattered with now-wild bushes of this rose. It tolerates drought, shade and poor soil and is very winter hardy, so it’s no wonder it has thrived everywhere it was planted.
FYI: Fossils found in the Northern Hemisphere suggest that roses originated 32 million years ago.
I know that pioneers came up to British Columbia from California, so I can only imagine that the beautiful ‘Harison’s Yellow’ bushes I see growing wild everywhere in the Okanagan took a similar journey as the ones now growing on the Oregon Trail. Carried lovingly by pioneers heading north (maybe during the Gold Rush?) they once adorned old homesteads and now can be found in yards and roadsides. Every time I stop to admire ‘Harison’s Yellow’ I’ll also be reminded of its perilous and storied journey to get here.
The Language of Flowers
Yellow roses symbolize friendship and joy.
Are you familiar with this rose? Some say this is a very difficult rose to propagate from cuttings, but others have had no problem. Tell me in the comments if you have had experience with ‘Harison’s Yellow’.