Rose classification

Many different terms are used to classify roses and, with the frequent hybridisation of roses, the lines between the categories are becoming more and more blurred.

Below we have listed the principle rose categories and then other terms which are sometimes used to classify roses differently.

Principle rose categories

Modern bush roses

These roses are relatively recent introductions (within the last 100 years) and are usually repeat flowering. The plants grow as upright bushes.

Large-flowered (aka hybrid tea)

These were originally developed by crossing Tea roses with Hybrid Perpetuals, hence the name ‘hybrid tea’. Each steam bears a single flower, or a small cluster of flowers. Flowers in summer to autumn.

Cluster-flowered (aka floribunda)

Flowers are borne on large sprays or trusses from summer to autumn, with a more continuous display than large-flowered bush roses.

Shrub roses (aka old roses or old garden roses)

This is a very varied group of roses, although the common ground for most of those included is a heritage dating back over 100 years. Shrub roses include the following rose types:

Alba roses

Large shrubs with blue/grey leaves and very scented flowers which are usually white or pale pink. Flowers once in midsummer.

Gallica roses

Short shrubs with good scent and rich red/pink coloured flowers. Flowers once in midsummer.

Damask roses

Short shrubs often grown for their essential oils. Most flower once only, but some have a second flush in autumn.

Centifolia (aka Provence) roses

Also known as the ‘cabbage rose’ because of its rounded flower shape with tightly packed flowers. Forms floppy shrubs which flower once in early summer.

Moss roses

Stems and sepals are covered with sticky, scented glands which appear as moss. These are sports of other roses (such as Centifolia roses) and the flowers tend to share the form, scent and colour range of their ancestors.

Portland roses

Late flowering roses which are generally red/pink in colour. Named after Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, 2nd Duchess of Portland, who grew these roses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Bourbon roses

Named after l’Ile de Bourbon in Mauritius (the island is now called ‘Réunion’), an important port for French ships returning from the Far East. These roses flower in autumn (some later cultivars flowering from summer through to autumn) and have very good scent.

China roses

Perpetual flowering roses, blooming repeatedly over a long season. They are thought to have been initially introduced to Europe from China in the 17th century. They are available in a wide range of colours and the later China hybrids have more substantial blooms and scent.

Tea roses

Introduced from China in the early 19th century, these roses have delicate shades of pink, yellow and apricot, and include dwarf and climbing varieties. They need a warmer climate with summer rain to thrive. Many are repeat flowering.


These late flowering roses have clusters of large flowers and good scents.

Hybrid Perpetuals

These large flowered roses which flower repeatedly, often over a long season, were very popular in the later 19th century. They have large, flat flowers, strong colours and good scent, but can be susceptible to powdery mildew.

Hyrbid musks

These are well scented roses with medium sized flowers. Many of them are repeat flowering. The main proponent of Hybrid Musks was the Rev. Joseph Pemberton of Essex, UK, who developed these roses in the early 20th century.

Species roses

See below.

English roses (aka David Austin roses)

See below.

Climbing roses

These are forms of other roses (notably modern bush roses, although some are climbing forms of Tea roses) with stiff, elongated stems. They are usually large flowered and repeat flowering. Some roses are halfway between a climber and a rambler in habit; generally speaking these are classified as climbers.

Rambling roses

These tend to be once flowering roses (usually in midsummer) with smaller flowers than climbers. They are vigorous plants with thin, pliable stems which weave through other shrubs and trees.

Patio roses

This is a generic term used to describe roses which can be grown in containers. These tend to be miniature roses, dwarf cluster-flowered bush roses and polyantha roses.

Other classifications used

English roses (aka David Austin roses)

Rose breeder David Austin set out in the 1960s to develop ‘English roses’ which would have the appearance and scent of old roses but with modern disease resistance. The resulting group of roses sit somewhere between shrub roses (where they are usually classified) and modern bush roses.

Polyantha roses

These are small roses with clusters of, generally unscented, miniature flowers. They are often classified as patio roses.

Miniature roses

These are tiny versions of modern bush roses, sometimes grown as standards. They are often classified as patio roses.

Canadian hardy roses

These roses were developed by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), at a research station in Manitoba, to withstand the harsh Canadian winters. They are hardy to -35°C.

Ground cover roses

Roses which will grow across the ground to cover it. They are either roses which are wider than they are tall or which are naturally prostrate.

Species roses

These ‘wild’ roses are the forebears of all the other groups of roses, although fewer than 10 of the approximate 150 species which exist have actually been used in the hybridisation of our garden roses. Most species have relatively small flowers and flower only once, at midsummer. Many have spectacular hips which persist through the autumn into winter.