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Heirloom Roses: The Apothecary's Rose

Updated on January 18, 2017
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Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


The apothecary's rose is an ancient rose that has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries and is deeply entwined with in English history.


This rose is native to ancient Persia was probably brought to Europe by Crusaders returning from the Middle East. During the English Wars of the Roses, it became the symbol of the House of Lancaster (Red rose) whose opponents, the House of York, were symbolized by a white rose. Henry VII, whose mother was a Lancaster, defeated Richard III, ending the wars. He went on to marry Elizabeth of York and took as his symbol what became known as the Tudor Rose, a combination of the Red Rose of the House of Lancaster and the White Rose of the House of York.


The apothecary's rose was used medicinally as well as used in potpourri and to make rosary beads. Its hips are a good source of Vitamin C. In France, an apothecary's rose was planted outside the door of apothecaries' shops earning it its name of apothecary's rose. In modern times, it is often grown in herb gardens because of its associations with medicine.


The apothecary's rose is a small (to 4 feet) shrubby rose that spreads by suckering and is hardy through zone 4. If kept properly pruned, it makes an excellent hedge. The apothecary's rose prefers full sun, but can also grow in semi-shady spots. Although it does well in poor soils, they should be well-drained. It blooms once a year in the spring. The flowers are semi-double and an intense pink despite its description as "red" in the history books. They have a typical old rose fragrance. In the fall, it has large orange rose hips that are often used to make rose hip jelly.

Like most heirloom roses, it is disease resistant.


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.

Annual pruning should be done after your rose has finished blooming but no later than late summer. To shape it, cut the top canes down by one third and side canes by two thirds.


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