Buck Roses: Bringing Iowa State History to the Present

close up of a buck rose with pink and yellow colors

Throughout high school and my three years at Iowa State University, learning Spanish has always been a passion of mine. Now, you might be asking, “What does Spanish have to do with Reiman Gardens?”, and I’ll give you two words: Buck Roses. Roses have always been a favorite of mine since I was young due to my mom’s love for the yellow and orange roses that filled our garden, and I recently found myself tapping my second-language skills in the Reiman Gardens Rose Garden collections as I browsed the 75 Buck Rose varieties and noticed some Spanish-named cultivars; ‘Amiga Mia’ and ‘El Catala‘ are thrown into the mix of some of my favorites such as, ‘Honeysweet’, ‘Wild Ginger’, and ‘Prairie Sunset’. After this discovery, I decided to do a little research about Buck Roses and found the connection to Spain.

Buck roses stem from the work of an Iowa State rose-breeder and Professor of Horticulture, Dr. Griffith Buck. As a teenager, Buck found a pen pal for a school assignment who changed the course of his life: Pedro Dot, from Spain, who bred roses. In response to Buck’s letter, Dot’s niece wrote back and included breeding tips from Dot, along with his own notes, and encouraged Buck to give rose-breeding a try.

Fast-forwarding through several decades, a World War, contacts with other rose-breeders, and numerous field tests and experiments, a friendship between Buck and the Spanish rose-breeder was formed, and we can see today that Buck created over 80 rose cultivars that are disease resistant and winter hardy in Iowa. During his processes, Buck shipped many of his varieties to friends and family in other areas of the United States and his roses can be seen all over the country.

My favorite cultivar of the Buck Roses is called ‘Prairie Sunset’ which has characteristics that remind me of my mom’s favorite roses when I was growing up. The combination of yellow and dark orange petals emulate colors of a vibrant sunset as they open and stand out in any garden. ‘Prairie Sunset’ roses bloom from June until the first frost of the year, and have a very sweet, summery fragrance. The abundant, dark green foliage that accompanies the colorful blossoms appears leathery and is resistant to foliar disease such as black spot and along with the other Buck Rose cultivars, ‘Prairie Sunset’ is winter hardy in Iowa without additional protection and survives temperatures of -20 to -30˚. The ‘Prairie Sunset’ rose looks best when combined with other colorful plants and roses, working together to create variation and contrast among a landscape.

Take a look through the 75 Buck Rose cultivars that are here at Reiman Gardens in the Griffith Buck Rose Collection Garden to find the ‘Prairie Sunset’ rose; and while you’re there, try to spot the Spanish names that connect these roses to a long line of Iowa State history with a very important Spanish influence.

By Carly Lepic – Education Intern

For more information about Buck Roses and varieties, please visit http://www.ag.iastate.edu/centers/cad/rose1.html