Blue Roses

...and why we don't see them in the Rose Garden!

Blue Roses have always been of interest to gardeners. In 1840, there was a big money prize competition organized in Europe for the first Rosarian to breed one. There were no winners!

Since that time, geneticists have tried to manipulate complex genes with a variety of plant life, looking for the elusive.

The "blue roses for a blue lady" that are mentioned in the famous song, are difficult to find. The gentleman who wrote that lyric set himself a very difficult task.

You can buy blue, long stemmed, Tea roses, but they are white roses dyed blue. To produce a true rose, on an actual rose bush is a lot more complex.

Some Blue Rose Chemistry.

It started in Australia when someone at the University of Queensland found a protein in the human liver that turned bacteria blue. After much painstaking work, experiments were underway to see if the same chemical manipulation could be done with roses.

Teaming up with Vanderbilt University, the trial continued but only a few blue spots on some stems were produced.

It's all about DELPHINIDIN which is the pigment in flowers that creates the blue coloring. This has been done with petunias, carnations and chrysanthemums and we already had blue delphiniums, poppies and gentians, to name but a few. But roses stubbornly refuse to accept the pigment change: it just isn't in their genes.

The main stumbling block is that in roses the main flower color pigment is acidic and in an acid environment, DELPHINIDIN is pink not blue! Which is where we remember the stories of hydrangeas changing from blue to pink depending on the acidic value of the soil beneath.

Basically, the rose is lacking the gene to produce dephinidin, the primary plant pigment that produces true blue flowers, so this has to be introduced, artificially from outside: assuming the acidic content of the bloom allows it!

See the problem. 

Blue Roses are Getting Closer!

In 2004, however, two companies, Florigen and Suntory, used a delphinidin gene from a petunia and crossed it with a mauve-blend OGR rose called Cardinal de Richelieu. This produced the nearest thing to our illusive rose, although it was still more dark burgundy than true blue. A second method, depressing production of cyanidin in the plant, produced only dark mauve plants: but they are getting very, very close.

The first verse of a poem by Rudyard Kipling, hints at the frustration:

Roses red and roses white,

Plucked I for my loves' delight.

She would none of all my posies-

Bade me gather her blue roses.

She, unfortunately, dies before he can find any!!

Blue roses have always fascinated people. The nearest so far could be one called "Blue Moon". Unfortunately it's more lilac than blue.

In the 1970's the blue rose was the most used 'design' in fabrics and ceramics. No other design or color came close. The mythology and mystery still surrounds this rose: some day it will be engineered, but until then the dyed ones will have to do.

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