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Tea for Two… The Romance and Mystery of Francis Dubreui

by Suzanne M. Horn, Master Rosarian, Pacific Rose Society

This article was first published in the Pacific Rose and is a 2016 Award of Merit winner

'Francis Dubreuil' bloom, photographer unknown

Our Rose of the Month is a luscious, fragrant Old garden Rose known as ‘Francis Dubreuil’. Classified by the American Rose Society as a dark red (DR), this beautiful, velvety dark crimson rose is fully double and presents a charming, old fashioned bloom form. It was introduced in 1894 by French tailor turned rose breeder Francis Dubreuil, who was also the grandfather of Francis Meilland, who produced the famous hybrid tea rose ‘Peace’ circa 1939. Since its introduction, it has become one of the most sought-after Old Garden Roses in commerce.

‘Francis Dubreuil’ is part of the historic family of Old Garden Roses and is classified as a Tea rose. These roses, which were first called "tea-scented China roses", first appeared circa 1810 in London. They were produced by a cross between Rosa Gigantea and Rosa Chinesis. They gained their name because their intense tea scent was reminiscent of a newly opened chest of China tea, which at the time was shipped to England from the Orient in wooden chests. Tea roses were an immediate hit in Europe and quickly spread to the rest of the rose-growing world. They were long considered in a class of their own for their exquisite colors, distinctive fragrance, fine foliage, and almost constant flushes of flowers in warmer climates. They were looked upon as almost perfect roses. ABOVE: Francis Dubreuil bloom in garden of Suzanne Horn, photo by Suzanne Horn.

In my research for this story, I came upon a mystery behind our rose of the month. By way of background, many Tea roses have been discovered and identified based upon their descriptions. They have been propagated and sold with a surety as to their identity. However, as is the case in many historical roses, there is no definitive information on many early tea roses. Most, but not all, of the 250 tea roses introduced between 1830 and 1840 are thought to be extinct. In the 1870's, tea roses regained their popularity, although they were mostly grown by the wealthy. When money became tight for most families during World War I and the worldwide depression, fewer tea roses were introduced and sold. RIGHT: Francis Dubreuil winning vase of three OGRs from 2018 Santa Clarita show, shown & photo by Suzanne Horn.

Those Tea Roses that had previously been introduced were commonly grown in rural areas, particularly in the South. However, since they were not in commerce and people were poor, most people had never heard of them. These roses were passed along from generation to generation. When a girl got married, she would be given a cutting from her Mother's tea roses to be passed along to her daughters.

Once almost forgotten, Tea Roses regained their popularity in the latter part of the 20th Century. Teas are often found by modern day “rose rustlers” growing on old home sites and cemeteries where they have survived for decades with little or no care. They are once again being celebrated for their elegance and beauty and are acclaimed as superb shrubs for warm gardens. That being said, the exact lineage of Tea Roses will not be certain until DNA testing is performed on them. ABOVE: Francis Dubreuil open bloom in garden of Suzanne Horn, photo by Suzanne Horn.

With regard to ‘Francis Dubreuil’, experts have noted that plants of Francis Dubreuil sold in the United States look exactly like a beautiful Hybrid Tea rose named ‘Barcelona’, which was introduced by Kordes in 1932. To confuse the matter even further, plants of ‘Francis Dubreuil’ sold in Australia still look different.

Southern California rose expert Kim Rupert has been quoted as saying, “The origin of the Francis Dubreuil/Barcelona confusion is identical to that for Irene Watts and Pink Gruss an Aachen. Bob Edberg imported ‘Francis Dubreuil’ from Peter Beales. He rooted a plant for The Huntington, which he gave me to take to Clair Martin when I went out to volunteer. I did. That plant should still be in the Tea and China bed at The Huntington. I gave cuttings to Carolyn at Sequoia from this Francis Dubreuil. I rooted them for the Huntington Plant Sales, and the one which still grows in what's left of my garden. The ‘Francis Dubreuil’ at Ashdown came from this plant, also. Barcelona had grown in the gardens at The Huntington for decades. My plant, and that given to Ashdown and Sequoia, came from that plant, also. I still grow that plant, too. Both varieties are own root, and have been kept separate so as to prevent confusion. In my climate, there is no difference. I can also tell you when grown under plastic, at Sequoia, budded on a tree stock, the ‘Francis Dubreuil’ blooms are VERY much like those of Oklahoma.” ABOVE: Francis Dubreuil Victorian Award shown by Suzanne Horn at 2016 Desert RS Show, photo by Suzanne Horn.

Renowned French hybridizer Pierre Guillot believed ‘Francis Dubreuil’ to be a descendant of 'Souvenir de David d'Angers'. Budwood from the Sangerhausen ‘Francis Dubreuil’ was supplied to Peter Beales' nursery in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Subsequent thereto, the rose was once again available for sale in Europe and the United States.

Until future DNA tests sort out the mystery, we will simply have to go forward with what we currently know about this exquisite rose. Fortunately, we do have an abundance of wonderful information at hand. LEFT: Francis Dubreuil shown by Suzanne Horn at 2018 Santa Clarita Show, photo be Peter Alonso.

The most impressive characteristic of ‘Francis Dubreuil’ is its intoxicating fragrance. When most rose lovers see a beautiful rose, they will almost immediately dip their nose into it to inhale the fragrance. If no scent is present, most people feel disappointed. It has even been said that a rose without fragrance is the equivalent of a beautiful woman without character. Fortunately, ‘Francis Dubreuil’ presents with an excess of "character" in the form of a pungent damask scent; and it is the most intensely fragrant rose in my garden of 430 plants. I could spend an entire day in the garden enjoying the beauty and incredible scent of this rose. Furthermore, when its blooms are cut and brought into the home, its incredible perfume fills a whole room. While its vase life is not as long as that of most hybrid teas, it is well worth the time you have to enjoy it.

The second most celebrated attribute of ‘Francis Dubreuil’ is its rich deep red color, which is prized among lovers of tea roses. Long, pointed buds slowly open to lush, opulent blooms reaching up to 4 inches in diameter and presenting anywhere from 17 up to 60 petals. The rich red hue deepens to a dark crimson with purple shading as the blooms age. This rose prefers full sun and afternoon shade, although it will grow in a partially shady location. It is recommended that you plant this rose so that it gets afternoon shade to protect the color from washing out. RIGHT: Francis Dubreuil spray, photo by missy_gardenwhimsey.

Although many Tea Roses present large blooms on weak stems, which result in drooping flowers, this is not the case with ‘Francis Dubreuil’. The large, cupped, full blooms are well supported by lightly thorned stems, which are wiry but straight with none of the nodding that is often seen in Old Garden Roses. Those sumptuous blooms are framed by glossy, dark green foliage that perfectly sets off the rich crimson of the flowers.

By way of growth habit, the plants generally grow in an upright manner from 3-4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, although I have read reports of plants in some gardens growing up to six feet tall or more. In my garden, even on fortuniana, this rose is not a strong grower. However, its attributes of fragrance and color easily make up for its lack of vigor. Francis Dubreuil can be successfully grown in pots, and it makes a good small plant for the landscape. However, you should make sure to only prune it lightly. Also, although this rose has fair disease resistance, it is susceptible to mildew and blackspot. Thus, a regular spray program is advised to keep your plants looking clean and healthy.

Of note, Tea Roses are not as hardly as their subsequent offspring the Hybrid Tea. Their Chinese heritage rendered them somewhat tender. As such, ‘Francis Dubreuil’ needs steadily hot temperatures to thrive. It does not generally like cold weather. However, it is perfectly suited to the Pacific Southwest, much of Central Texas, parts of the Gulf Coast and other Southern states. When kept happy, this rose will produce its beautiful deep red blooms with good continuity throughout the growing season.

For the exhibitors among us, ‘Francis Dubreuil’ is a superb show rose for the Victorian class (Old Garden Roses introduced in 1867 or after). It is also a wonderful rose for collections, for challenge classes, and of course for the Most Fragrant Rose class.

In summary, ‘Francis Dubreuil’ is a much sought-after rose that will delight both home gardeners and exhibitors alike. It offers luxuriant blooms, beautiful color, intoxicating fragrance, a lot of history and a little mystery as well. All this is rolled up into a stunning, captivating tea rose you won't want to be without. Availability is limited, and you will never locate it in a big box store or at your local nurseries. It can be obtained by mail order on its own roots from Burlington Nursery and Rogue Valley Roses, and it is occasionally available by mail order from Cool Roses on fortuniana rootstock. Even though you may have to go the extra mile to obtain it, this rose is well worth the extra effort involved to obtain it. I highly suggest that you give it a try.


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