Identifying roses-Part 1, the basics

Roses are now gracing us with their splendid flowers once more. One of the biggest questions at this time of the year is can you identify my rose?

So with this in mind, I have put together a small handy guide of what to look for when identifying roses . Like anything else in life there’s always loads more questions and things to look at before you get an answer and with well over 100,000 named cultivars, some current and some lost, it is a mind field!

Things to bear in mind is how the plant has been treated. A heavily pruned rose will produce larger leaves and flowers than a unpruned plant. Also the time of year can have an effect. On some repeat flowering roses, the flowers can look different from the first blooms. Rain effected flowers also may differ. The sun or lack of sun also has an effect with either the sun bleaching the flowers or the colour shade of the rose being different depending on the temperature prior to opening.


This is the first thing you should be looking at, so many clues are held within a leaf it’s self. The next blog will cover this in a bit more detail covering the different types of leaves and how they can help you id the group of roses they belong too. But today it’s a rough idea. Always look at a general leaf, one of a average age and size.

  • How many leaflets are on the leaf?
  • What’s the shape of the leaf?
  • Does the tip of the leaf go to a point or is rounded?
  • How toothed are the leaves?
  • What colour is leaf, light green? Dark green?
  • Has the leave got a Matt or gloss finish?
  • Is there lots of signs of disease? If so how much disease?
  • Is there a difference in the new and older foliage?


Of course these are the main things you look at, most the clues are here within the flowers. Don’t rush take your time

  • How many flowers per stem?
  • Are the flowers single, semi double, full etc?
  • The size of the flowers too, I don’t mean the exact size just the general ie loads of 1cm big flowers or one 10cm flower?
  • Does it repeat flower?
  • Does the flowers change colour as it age?
  • Does the flower open a slightly different colour?
  • On single and double flowers, how many petals are there?
  • What shape is the flower? Is it cupped, more open? Flat?
  • What’s the centre of the rose like?


The buds are also so important. Different rose groups have different buds here’s a few things to look for

  • Shape of the bud? Is it pointed? Rounded?
  • Sepetals, are these shaped, pointed, long, narrow, wide?
  • How does the bud open, is the bud more attractive than the flower?
  • What colours do the bud open? Is there other colours flashing though?


I suppose I should really include this into the flower section but I haven’t so here it is. One thing with scent is that is can be different to each one of us and it does depend also on the time of day we smell them. Mornings and evenings are best as the midday sun will evaporate the scent away

  • How strong is the scent?
  • Can you pick any undertones of flowers up?
  • Does it remind you of Myrrh? Chocolate? Vanilla or a hint of musk?


Now he has lost it! But the thorns have a great part to play in identifying a rose. Each group of roses have their own style of thorns and again are another piece of the puzzle

  • Are the thorns long and thin, short and fat?
  • How many are on the stems?
  • What colour are they ?
  • Are there any thorns at all!!?

The plant shape

Classic bush rose shape, upright and solid

How the rose grows is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s growing up something or not. Just remember there is no such thing as a climbing rose, a climbing rose is a bush sometimes shrub rose that’s trained on a structure because it’s too big to go without supports!! Anything can be trained as a climber! Also pruning, weather disease can effect the shape too.

  • What is the natural shape of the plant V shaped normally means a shrub rose
  • How open is the plant?
  • Can the rose that’s over 5yrs old support it’s own growth ok?
  • How many, big, vigorous are the new stems?
  • How do the roses flower off the new stems?
  • How big are the new stems sent from the base like?
  • Are their many stems sent from the base?
  • When was it last pruned?
  • How did the plant react to the pruning?
  • What colour is the new growth?

Lots and lots of questions but so many little pointers to finding the right rose, over time I may increase these sections to allow more information on each section. It’s a lot more than just guessing on the colour of the flowers!!

I hope you found this beginners guide helpful. I shall be expanding each section to cover more of what I mean in the coming months

One Comment Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Oh, goodness! There are too many cultivars to identify them by name. I can not even identify those in my own garden. I have no idea what type of rose the leaves in the first picture are from, although they resemble those of a hybrid tea rose. The stems are a bit thinner, like those of a ‘David Austin’ rose. The second rose is a ‘David Austin’ type, like ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, but since I dislike ‘David Austin’ roses, I am not acquainted with it. The next one looks like a floribunda type, like ‘Queen Elizabeth’, but of course, I do not know the name. The thorny stem looks sort of like a hybrid tea rose, but it is unlikely that you have more than one, or even one hybrid tea rose in your garden. (Hybrid tea roses are all that I will grow in my garden.) Hey, that last one looks disturbingly familiar, and also seems to be a hybrid tea rose, like ‘John F. Kennedy’, which is my all time favorite rose!

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