Dedicated to America’s favorite flower: the Rose!

You Have to Stop and Smell the Roses (or you will be missing a lot!) 

by Bruce Lind

It is tough to come up with a truly fresh statement on the topic of fragrance in roses, so I will follow this unoriginal thought with another oldie from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

We all know that roses have many ways of sharing their beauty with us — fragrance being just one of them. If we take the time to watch visitors in a garden we often see them make a bee-line to a visually striking rose and, almost as soon as they get there, put their nose close and draw in a deep breath. What comes next is dependent on both the rose and the person we are observing. If we see a great smile break out we know they have sensed a pleasing fragrance. If we see a look of puzzlement we know that they did not detect what they had been hoping for. This failure to detect a fragrance may be due to many reasons, including problems lying with the “smeller” and not the rose.

We who are known to be “rose nuts” are often asked for a list of roses that can provide fragrance for a garden. Each of us have our own favorites to share, and the American Rose Society provides information through their website that can help us understand rose fragrance from a technical sense as well as providing information on the recipients of the ARS James Alexander Gamble Award for Fragrance. About two-dozen participants at a recent audit session for Consulting Rosarians discussed fragrant roses, particularly Gamble Award winners, and also brought fragrant roses from their own gardens to share in a Rose Fragrance “Sniff Off.” In the collection of more than five-dozen

You Have to Stop and Smell the Roses- Bruce Lind

specimens we had a surprising 53 varieties. We had examples of roses with strong fragrance in their foliage provided by stems of sweetbriar roses (R. rubignosa) with their apple-smelling leaves, and specimens of ‘Salet’, a moss rose, that allowed everyone to do a rub-and-sniff to capture the resinous aroma of pine from the peduncle. A delicious potluck lunch prevented some of the attendees from getting their votes into the ballot box, but a tally of ballots cast gave the nod to ‘Firefighter’ (6), leading ‘Double Delight’, ‘Mister Lincoln’ and ‘Sugar Moon’ (3 each).

‘Firefighter’, Hybrid Tea
Photo by Rich Baer


My original interest was in trying to find common elements in the ancestry of Gamble Fragrance Award winners. At the CR audit we did look at images of Gamble Award winners, read the description of their fragrance as recorded in Modern Roses 12 database. As we discussed each rose we heartily agreed that most were indeed fragrant roses. However, a few of those roses recognized by a panel of experts as being exceptionally fragrant drew puzzled looks and comments similar to “I have never detected any real fragrance from that rose.” These comments draw attention to the fact that “observed” fragrance is a function of the actual fragrance of the rose and the ability of our own olfactory system to readily detect that fragrance. To paraphrase another old saw “Fragrance is in the nose of the sniffer.”

A great way to increase your personal store of information on fragrance in roses is by reading the articles on fragrance available on the ARS website. Scroll down the Articles on Roses page to the heading Fragrance and dive in to some enjoyable reading. The article “Flavors in Rose Fragrance” by Rhea Worrell gives an extensive list of fragrance categories that relate to other common tastes and fragrances. Each fragrance category is followed by a list of examples of roses possessing that fragrance. This is interesting and potentially educational – particularly for those among you who are able to detect hints of blackberry, cherry and chocolate when you are tasting a good red wine. You Have to Stop and Smell the Roses- Bruce Lind2‘Salet’, Moss Rose
Photo from Modern Roses 12

Bruce Lind (, “You Have To Stop and Smell the Roses (or you will be missing a lot!)”, Summer 2014. Pacific Northwest Rosarian.  Judy Heath (, ed. Pacific Northwest District Rose Society.

Click here to download the pdf version of this article.