Butterfly Rose Changes Color

butterfly rose (Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis') photo by John Shortland

butterfly rose (Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’) photo by John Shortland

The best part of writing about plants is the opportunity to share horticultural discoveries with the general gardening public. The hope is that information presented here will help to increase the beauty and botanical variety of our surroundings.
With the hundreds if not thousands of different plants available and capable of growing in our mild climate, it is quite astonishing to drive up and down the streets of our city and see the same predictable horticultural fare. I often wonder what happens to the more unusual plants that are seen in nurseries. Perhaps they are all planted in the back yard (where they can be more carefully guarded) and are therefore invisible to front yard plant oglers like myself.
I just discovered a plant that, although it has been cultivated since the 19th century, seems to be painfully absent from our local landscapes. According to all reports, this plant should thrive in our climate, flowering most of the year with a character unlike any other.
I refer to Rosa Mutabilis, the butterfly rose.
The butterfly rose has many facets to its beauty. Quite possibly unique among flowering plants, the blooms of the butterfly rose change color from sulfur yellow to apricot to pink to crimson. The flowers have five petals in a single layer. Their appearance is silky and whimsical and they tend to nod on the stem. These roses are not at all stiff or formal like the classic multilayered roses we have come to expect.
The site of a butterfly rose bush in full bloom is an unforgettable experience. Imagine yellow, orange, pink and crimson flowers glowing all at once against a background of delicate foliage on mahogany red stems. The bush appears to be in movement, its roses resembling a swarm of butterflies with wings bending in the sun.
Another name for the butterfly rose is “Tipo Ideal” which means “ideal type.” This rose is ideal because it shows many colors at once, has attractive foliage and stems, blooms most of the time, and is virtually disease free. It is also hardy to 15 degrees, which means it can survive winters throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
The dimensions of the butterfly rose bush are formidable. It can grow as large as 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide, though it can be kept smaller, without sacrificing profusion of bloom, with regular pruning. As with most roses, the more fertilizer it gets, the more abundant its flower production will be.
As of mid-November, my butterfly rose bush is flowering as though it were midspring. I will watch it with great interest this winter, its first in my garden. I have seen reports that, though it goes dormant in more northern climes, it stays evergreen and keeps right on flowering throughout the winter in warmer, more southern areas like our own.
TIP OF THE WEEK: One of the best gardening Web sites is at www.gardenweb.com. There you will find 90 forums or discussion groups to answer any gardening questions you might have. You also have access to an enormous library of plant photographs, articles and nurseries. It is an unhyped, understated site with complete access to everything horticultural under the sun.

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