Rosa Banksiae – A Charleston Native

Syns. R. banksiana, Banksian rose, Banks’ Rose, Lady Banks’ Rose Species.

Cultivated since 1796

If you are in Charleston, SC area, this rose is blooming its head off right now. It’s the best time of the year to see it. It is part of the Charleston landscape at this time of the year!

Rosa banksiae is one of the best shrubs for a wall and will reach the top of most houses in a few years. It produces an abundance of pretty small roses with the sweetest fragrance you can imagine. The flowers are borne on last year’s wood, so it is well-advised not to prune in the spring. Only dead or useless branches have to be trimmed. The introduction date is unknown, but the double white form was first described in the Botanical Magazine for 1818 as Lady Banks’ Rose and one of the sweetest of roses. It has also been known as a native of China and had been introduced in 1807 by William Kerr. The double yellow was introduced in 1824.

Definitely not for the small property, this vigorous species rose offers a spectacular spring show in warm climate gardens that can accommodate its rampant growth habit.

There are four different forms of R. banksiae, varying by flower color and flower form:

  1. R. banksiae normalis is considered to be the “wild” form, with single white flowers.
  2. R. banksiae banksiae (also known as Banksiae Alba, R. banksiae alba, R.banksiae alba-plena, White Banksia, or White Lady Banks’ Rose) offers exceptionally fragrant, double white flowers.
  3. R. banksiae lutea (R. banksiae lutea-plena, Yellow Lady Banks’ Rose) is the most well-known form of Rosa banksiae in cultivation with small, fully double, bright yellow flowers that come in clusters. They are only slightly fragrant.
  4. R. Banksiae lutescens has single light yellow blooms.

All four have small, oval buds that open to clustered, 1-inch wide, rosette-form flowers, usually blooming in early or mid-spring to late spring. Slender, thornless canes carry semi-evergreen to evergreen, shiny, dark green leaves with narrow leaflets. They are rarely bothered by diseases. All four forms of this specie rose have a vigorous, rambling habit and can grow up to 30 ft, so they’re usually used as 20 to 30-foot climbers. They need a sturdy support, such as a well-built pergola or arbor; they also like to scramble into trees. It is an excellent rose for zone 8 to 10.

I saw Rosa banksiae in Charleston, SC, on my first visit there in 1989. We went on a House and Garden Tour, and at one of the gardens we visited, ‘Yellow Lady Banks’ was growing almost to the roof of the house against the wall. We wandered along some tiny street, and I saw ‘Yellow Lady Banks’ rose by the gate, and I took the above photo.

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