Of all the old roses families, the Moss is the odd one out. The name comes from the strange mossy bracts surrounding the buds, otherwise moss roses behave very much as their Centifolia parents.
Centifolias (a hundred petals) are often called cabbage roses, for their large blooms and abundance of petals. They were developed by the Dutch from the sixteenth century, being once-flowering hybrids probably of the Gallica family.
Many's the time we've heard people remark about the dreadful crop of aphids on some of our roses. This is the reaction of some to the mossing. Rub your fingers up the mossy stem to the bud and you'll experience sticky moss and smell a strange turpentine fragrance. Some varieties are more mossy than others but all are quite recognisable.
Moss roses are mostly very prickly, wonderfully fragrant and deserving of a place in your garden. They range from short-growing bushes through to lax arching shrubs. In their heyday there were 135 in the collection at Roseraie de l'Haye in Paris, owing their popularity to the attentions of the Victorian hybridists of Holland and France.
Today there are thirty of forty Moss roses available, which is sufficient to ensure their continued popularity. Their parentage is believed to descend through the Gallica family via the Centifolias, but one often finds reference to Damask Mosses, suggesting the influence of the damask family. While most Moss roses are once-flowering, there are some that will oblige with repeat flowers later in the season.