The Yellow Rose of Texas: A Timeless Clone

The world of cloning is no stranger to controversy and intrigue, with Dolly the sheep capturing headlines in the not-too-distant past. While cloning remains relatively rare in the animal kingdom, it is a phenomenon that has long been observed among plants. One such plant, the Kerria japonica, has a fascinating history that spans hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This clone has been passed down from one gardener to another, making its way across continents and time, and is a direct descendant of an ancient Chinese mandarin’s prized garden treasure.

A Misnamed Beauty

Kerria japonica, often known as the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” is a plant that defies expectations. Contrary to its name, it is neither a rose nor native to Texas. Instead, this monotypic species belongs to the rose family but is closely associated with brambles and spireas. Standing at an impressive height of six feet, this deciduous shrub forms a regal crown, boasting slender green branches that reach skyward.

A Flourishing Phenomenon

In the realm of gardening, Kerria is usually overlooked except when it bursts into bloom in the middle of spring. The most popular cultivated variety is the double-flowered type, which produces stunning orange-yellow blossoms measuring about an inch and a half across. These delicate blooms boast an astonishing number of petals, forming perfect powder puffs that can contain up to a hundred petals. Interestingly, due to its sterile nature, this variety blooms for a much longer period compared to its single-flowered counterparts, which are occasionally available.

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A Tribute to William Kerr

The plant owes its name to William Kerr, an intrepid plant collector who hailed from London’s Kew Garden. In 1803, Kerr embarked on a remarkable journey to South China, armed with the mission to gather precious botanical specimens. However, due to trade agreements imposed by the Chinese, he was limited in his travels and could venture no further than half a day’s journey from the trading port where he was stationed. Despite the constraints, Kerr managed to procure a vast array of plants from the Fa-Te nursery district near modern-day Guangzhou, a region known for its horticultural treasures.

Among the plants Kerr sent back to England were now familiar garden favorites such as Nandina, Chinese Juniper, tree peony, evergreen Ligustrum, and the subject of our story – the double-flowered Kerria, which arrived in 1805. The plant acquired its species name, “japonica,” from Carl Thunberg, one of Linnaeus’ students, who first described it based on material collected in Japan in 1776. The shrub was accurately classified and christened as a tribute to the adventurous William Kerr by a French botanist.

Overcoming the Perils of Transport

Transporting living plants from China to Europe was no mean feat in those days. Besides the inherent risks of lost ships due to typhoons and other misfortunes, the well-being of the plants was often neglected during the journey. To ensure their survival, Kerr resorted to employing Chinese gardeners who accompanied the precious cargo back to England. These dedicated individuals tended to the plants’ basic needs, ensuring their safe arrival and future propagation.

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A Widespread Legacy

Kerria, with its remarkable ability to propagate through crown division or hardwood cuttings, quickly spread across Europe once introduced. Within three decades of its arrival in England, it had become a common sight, adorning even the gardens of laborers. The single-flowered form of Kerria was introduced in 1835, adding another dimension to this versatile plant’s growing popularity.

Versatile and Resilient

Kerria is an adaptable plant that can thrive in moderate shade but truly flourishes when provided with full sun conditions. It can tolerate poor soil but performs best in a well-drained garden loam. Once established, it displays impressive drought tolerance. Hardy from zones 4 to 9, it faces no major insect or disease problems. Regular pruning is advised to maintain a tidy appearance, with heavy pruning recommended after flowering to control its size and spread.

As we marvel at the enduring presence of the Yellow Rose of Texas, we pay tribute to the remarkable journey of a clone that has transcended time and space. From the gardens of ancient Chinese mandarins to modern-day horticultural enthusiasts, this exquisite plant continues to captivate hearts with its vibrant beauty and timeless grace.

Ames Farm Center, a renowned garden center, offers a wide range of plants, including the cherished Yellow Rose of Texas. Visit their website here to explore their collection and bring a touch of botanical history to your own garden.

Original article by Gerald Klingaman, retired Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals Extension News – March 28, 2008