Relationship between Teas & Chinas.

Dublin29August 19, 2014

I'm a beginner at the rose game. I get confused between Teas & Chinas. They are related aren't they ? Or have I got this entirely wrong ? If they are, could someone explain how they are similar & where they differ. Thanks


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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Teas are thought to have originated in a hybrid of China and a climbing species native to the highlands of South Asia. They are similar in the twiggy shrub habit, disease resistance, strong repeat bloom, and preference for hot weather. Teas usually have larger, better-formed, and more fragrant flowers. Chinas may be a little tougher on average. I don't have a lot of experience growing these, so others may have better information.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 9:56AM
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jerijen(Zone 10)

You covered that pretty well, Michael. :-)


    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 12:10PM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

There seems to be some overlap or confusion about which is which, since Le Vesuve among others has been put in either camp. Cels Multiflora has been classed as a tea but looks exactly like a China in growth habit and leaves, but the flowers look more like teas. Jean Bach Sisley is another example. As usual it's not all black and white, with some blurring of the lines as far as I can see.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 12:36PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Thanks, Jeri, you are the real expert here..

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 12:39PM
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In addition to what has been said, Teas are often bigger, heftier plants, often originating from just one basal stem, whereas Chinas tend to be twiggier, often with many stems emerging from the soil line. Teas often resent pruning in hot weather, sometimes just dying outright. Chinas couldn't care less -- hack them with a hedge trimmer or a chain saw any time. They really don't care.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 1:26PM
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ArbutusOmnedo 10/24

If I'm not mistaken it largely had to do with scent at the beginning of their European introduction. Those roses imported from China that lacked scent were commonly referred to as Chinas while those with scent were often labeled as 'Tea' roses due to a perceived similarity to the scent of fresh green tea. This was very unscientific and allowed for wiggle room as Ingrid points out with the example of Le Vesuve. I've read that Mutabilis is technically a Tea, but almost always classified as a China. I could be totally wrong to say that, but I'll come back with a source for that if I can find one.

The growth habits of the two tend to be somewhat different. I think of Teas as larger than Chinas on the whole, which is likely due to the influence of something like R. gigantea or some other native species as Michael mentioned. I find it so strange, but funny to read old rose books lambasting these two classes. I have to remember that so many of those books are written from an English prospective very different from my Southern California experience.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 1:37PM
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It's bad nomenclature, but so old it's here to stay. Both 'classes' are Asiatic roses. The problem is--that's one heck of a huge area, of many different climates.

Imagine calling a class of roses "American"--that would lump roses together that thrived in zones from the desert to cool rainy mountain areas, roses that aren't related except for a artificial political boundary.

But for us westerners, yeah, 'Chinas' are characterized by smaller flowers (virtually all pink-red color) & denser twiggy growth. 'Teas' are lankier, taller growing, larger flowers, & many begin with cream or very pastel flowers that often darken in the sun like the 'Chinas'.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 2:27PM
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"Chinas" also tend to have a peppery scent to the growth parts while "Teas" never express it to my nose. Teas have that high-centered bud form with larger buds, blooms and foliage that Chinas usually lack. There were probably many generations of cross breeding between the two, potentially centuries prior to British "plant adventurers" "discovering" them. As with any classes related either through chronology or close proximity, there is quite a bit of overlap, resulting in some looking more like one than the other and usually arbitrarily classed one over the other. Kim

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 3:26PM
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AquaEyes 7a New Jersey

Note -- my interpretations are based more on reading and research than actual growing experience -- Jeri et al will be better able to tell you how Teas and Chinas differ in the garden.

If you go back to the originals from China, the two groups were very similar, and both arose from hybridization between 'R. chinensis' and 'R. gigantea' and probably some other species -- I can't remember the source off the top of my head, but I do recall that 'Old Blush' was found to have 'R. gigantea' ancestry, as well as being a descendent of 'Slater's Crimson'. Some were called "Tea-Scented Chinas" and evolved into what we today call Teas, but in the beginning, the two groups were very similar. If you've ever seen "Bermuda Spice" then that's how the earliest Teas looked.

Over time, "Tea-Scented Chinas" were bred with Bourbons and Noisettes, and I think THAT'S where the genes for hefty canes (and, in the case of Bourbons, larger flowers) originated -- or at least, were reinforced. The Teas and Chinas diverged over time, and the differences between them are more pronounced when comparing later-bred roses than earlier-bred roses. This was blurred again when people bred Chinas back into Teas, and today we see roses that are intermediate between the two.

Today, what most would call a China will have thin, twiggy growth that continues to branch and build upon itself. Later-bred Teas seem to begin this way as young plants, but then push out heavy canes that branch at the ends. Vintage Gardens, while now closed, illustrated well the growth habits of different classes of roses. While the website is still up, take a look at the description for Chinas:

Then look at the Teas:

See how Group 1 of the Teas resembles Chinas? Most from Group 2 and 3 were bred later. Those growth habits look familiar -- see the pages for Bourbons:

and Noisettes:

If you see Teas that catch your fancy, look them up on HelpMeFind, and take note of when they were introduced. The earliest Teas and Chinas will be from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and will be more similar in growth. The big Teas don't seem to be coming out until after the first Bourbons, a few decades later. 'Adam', one of the earliest European-bred Teas, was supposedly bred from 'Hume's Blush' (an original Tea-scented China) X 'Rose Edouard' (the first Bourbon), and appears in the ancestry of many later Teas.

Many later-bred roses classed today as Chinas were bred from Teas, but weren't "up to par" with the Teas of their time to fit among them -- so China became the class for "not quite Teas." 'Mme Laurette Messimy' is an example. But if you looked at it next to "Bermuda Spice" or another early Tea, you'd wonder why today it's called a China.

So yes, the two are related, and there are roses which tread the line between the two groups. Both originated from much of the same ancestral mix, but were taken in two different directions by breeders -- Chinas as easy ever-blooming bushes, and Teas for the size, fragrance and beauty of their individual buds and blooms.



    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 5:11PM
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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

Christopher, that's a most interesting and, from my experience, accurate description, and also one of the best I've come across. Certainly looking at Miss Atwood in my garden and comparing it to the beautiful, large, almost hybrid tea-like flowers (which are no more due to the massive, lasting mildew of this rose) of Alexander Hill Gray, one can see where the latter must have been crossed with another rose class to a much greater extent than the former, with Miss Atwood having smaller and less formal blooms. Le Vesuve and Rosette Delizy, although planted next to each other, show a more China influence in the former with its twigginess and smaller leaves compared to the more elegant and multipetaled Rosette Delizy. It's rather delightful that the different tea roses have so many variations in one class, making them a very interesting group to study and grow.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 7:07PM
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AquaEyes 7a New Jersey

Ingrid -- Thanks! Considering I study them from afar and you get to enjoy them in your yard, that's quite a compliment. I read a lot of things for pleasure (including this forum) that gradually build my interpretations. I was fascinated at how the old classes evolved, and considering how well many of them still do, would love to "make more" using variations on the original recipes.

Kim -- re: the peppery scent:

Interesting that you bring that up! When I mentioned "Bermuda Spice" as being what the old Tea-Scented Chinas were like (some think it might be a contender for, or seedling of, 'Hume's Blush'), I was also thinking of that characteristic. I pick up the "China scent" on it when I'm dead-heading. Perhaps it was interbreeding with Bourbons and/or Noisettes that caused this trait to disappear in later Teas, but the very early ones (most of which are now lost) likely retained the pepper smell.

In any case, both Chinas and the original Teas are likely complex hybrids of several Chinese species, including the purported 'R. chinensis', 'R. gigantea' and others. When hybrids self-seed or breed with other hybrids, variations showing different degrees of parental species will occur. Early on, the differences between the first Chinas and "Tea-scented Chinas" brought TO Europe were much more minor than between later "Chinas" and "Teas" bred IN Europe that we know today -- and I think that these paths diverged further because the roses we today call Teas have some dashes of Bourbon and/or Noisette in them.

When I was looking up roses to begin this garden, I found quite a few roses listed as Bourbons but having Tea (or "Tea-scented China") ancestry. Being as many were listed simply as "seedling of", it seems probable that seedlings (self- or otherwise) of these could result that would contain just enough Bourbon to result in a more robust plant, but which would otherwise pass for a Tea -- and was released as such. Think of all the Teas with 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' (itself a Bourbon-Tea) as an ancestor through 'Gloire de Dijon'. As breeders selected for "more robust Teas", they may have unknowingly shown preference for "a dash of Bourbon." Otherwise, considering accounts of how 'Hume's Blush' and 'Park's Yellow' grew as plants, where would the later Teas get their "big girl" genes?



    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 8:59PM
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Chinas appear to have a more glandular texture to the new growth, peduncles and sepals than "Teas" do. Bourbons and HPs often picked up that trait, look at Malmaison and Souv de St. Anne's for strong, sweet peppery scent to those parts, very much like what you detect from Mutabilis, Gloire des Rosomanes and Grandmother's Hat, among many others. But, "Teas" seldom have that trait, as if they're more "polished", like Wichurana hybrids. Multiflora types often express scented glandular growths on those parts, but they are more herbal than peppery. Rugosas can have associated scents, but they're more likely to have a stench, rather than a scent. Many of Ralph Moore's Hybrid Rugosas, particularly with moss blood, stink badly. Not the blooms as they usually have little to no scent, but the growth and green parts of the flowers stink badly. Kim

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 9:24PM
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May roses never cease to amaze me,
fascinating..., stinking glandular growth. I never knew that about Moores Hybrid Rugosas,
I think I'll go feel up 'Magnifica',
it's not one of Moores, but a much older Rugosa X hybrid and I'm surely curious.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 9:36PM
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I thought I hadn't managed to post this Question. So apologies, for my late thank you. Wow, so much info to digest now. Thanks a bundle for giving freely of your knowledge & time. Didn't realise this one would set the keyboards alight.

Kind Regards

Derek Boyes

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 1:16PM
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My advice is plant DUCHESSE DE BRABANT (tea) and CRAMOISI SUPERIEUR (china). Both are quintessential cultivars of their respective classes. When you compare each side-to-side you can see the difference between growth habit, foliage, size of flowers, etc. Both are fragrant beautiful roses and IMHO must haves for any rosarian who appreciates Old Roses.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 9:14AM
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