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Rose Classification Simplified

20180423L T.Kiya, WC.jpg
With over 300 species and nearly 20,000 cultivars of roses to choose from, it’s easy to understand why it’s helpful to categorize them according to their most obvious traits. Source: T.Kiya, Wikipedia Commons

Confused about rose classification? Is that rose a hybrid tea or a floribunda? Or perhaps an old garden rose? If you’re lost, here are a few quick and easy pointers to point you in the right direction: just the right thing to bone up on before you head to the Rose Show!

Rose Classification

There is no single system of classification for garden roses. Pretty much every rose society has its own. In general, however, roses grown commercially these days are placed in one of the following categories:

1. WILD or SPECIES ROSES

20180423A Fosa glauca, Wouter Hagens, WC
If the rose’s name is written in italics, it’s probably a species rose, like this Rosa glauca. Source: T.Kiya, Wikimedia Commons

• grow spontaneously in the wild
• single flowers, scented or not
• bloom once a year
• fruits (rose hips) often ornamental
• bear species names (Rosa blanda, Rosa glauca, etc.)
• variable hardiness (1 to 10, depending on the species)

2. OLD GARDEN ROSES or HERITAGE ROSES

20180423B Rosa Mundi Libby norman, WC.JPG
Old garden rose ‘Rosa Mundi’. Source: Libby norman, Wikimedia Commons
• date from before 1867 (1920 according to some definitions)
• generally small to medium-size flowers, often double
• often very fragrant
• most bloom only once a year
• many subcategories: gallica roses, damask roses, moss roses, etc.
• variable hardiness (4-9, depending on cultivar)

3. BUSH ROSES

Repeat-flowering roses, most developed after 1920. They were, through the 20th century, the most popular garden roses, but are now being replaced by the easier-to-grow shrub roses (see below). There are several categories:

A. Hybrid Tea Roses:

20180423C Rosa 'Peace', Arashiyama, WC.jpg
Hybrid tea rose ‘Peace’. Source: Arashiyama, Wikimedia Commons

• large, double, reblooming flowers with high-centered buds
• one flower per stem, rarely more
• stiffly upright habit with sparse foliage, making a fairly unattractive plant
• height: usually 3-5 ft (1 to 1.5 m)
• usually grafted
• not very hardy (zone 8); winter protection needed in most climates

B. Grandiflora Roses:

20180423D Rosa_'Queen_Elizabeth' Captain-tucker, WCJPG.JPG
Grandiflora rose ‘Queen_Elizabeth’ Source: Captain-tucker, Wikimedia Commons

• essentially a hybrid tea with 3-5 flowers per stem
• all other characteristics like hybrid tea
• not very hardy (zone 8); winter protection needed in most climates

C. Floribunda Roses:
20180423E iceberg_rose pxhere.com.jpeg
Floribunda rose ‘Iceberg’. Source: pxhere.co

• smaller flowers, single or double, carried in large sprays (5 and above)
• stiff habit, but smaller, bushier and more attractive than hybrid tea
• height: around 3 feet (90 cm)
• usually grafted
• usually hardier than hybrid teas (usually zone 7, sometimes zone 6)

D. Polyantha Roses:

20180423F Rosa_'The_Fairy'_Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, WC.jpg
Polyantha rose ‘The Fairy’. Source: rzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons

• significantly smaller flowers, borne in dense clusters
• abundant bloom most of the gardening season
• attractive habit, often spreading
• height: 30-60 cm
• usually grafted
• often fairly hardy (zones 4, 5 or 6)

E. Miniature Roses: 

20180423G Mandarin Sunblaze. www.starrosesandplants.com.jpg
Miniature rose Mandarin Sunblaze®. Source: http://www.starrosesandplants.com

• small flowers, individual or clustered
• most rebloom
• height: usually between 6 and 24 inches (15-60 cm)
• grown on their own roots (not grafted)
• often fairly hardy (zone 4 or 5)
• can be used as houseplants if given a period of cold dormancy

4. SHRUB ROSES

(includes ground cover roses, landscape roses English roses [David Austin roses], etc.)

20180423I Henry Hudson eaglelakenurseries.com.jpg
Shrub rose ‘Henry Hudson’. Source: eaglelakenurseries.com

• various origins
• usually robust, informal habit creating a shrub effect
• single or repeat blooming
• variable height, usually more than 2 ft (60 cm)
• grown on their on own roots (not grafted)
• often offer good disease resistance
• excellent hardiness: up to zone 2 for some

5. CLIMBING ROSES

20180423J Blaze Improved www.jacksonandperkins.com
Climbing rose ‘Blaze Improved’. Source: http://www.jacksonandperkins.com

• long flexible canes from 8 to 20 feet (2.5 to 6 m) in length
• can be trained and tied to arbors, trellises and pergolas
• all other characteristics are highly variable; flower size, abundance, appearance, rebloom, hardiness, etc.

6. TREE ROSES (ROSE STANDARDS)

20180423K Roses_trees, Наталия19, WC.JPG
Tree roses. Source: Наталия19, Wikimedia Commons
• grafted onto on upright canes
• most are bush roses
• generally very tender (zone 7 or 8)
• often need to be buried in trenches for better winter survival in cold climates
• some are non-grafted, produced by selective pruning of shrub roses, and these are sometimes quite hardy (zone 5 or even 4)


There you go: the basic rose classifications you need to know. Good growing!20180423L T.Kiya, WC

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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