Commonly known as the Manipur Wild Tea Rose, the plant is a type of Rose. Its biological name Rosa Gigantea pays homage to the fact that these plants grow to be huge.
The Rosa Gigantea is a climber that reaches at least 40ft (ca. 12 m). In more temperate climates, they have been known to grow to even 80ft (ca. 24 m).
They are deciduous shrub plants. This means that the leaves of the Rosa Gigantea sheds at the end of its growing season. This usually happens in autumn, especially in pleasant climates. The time and nature of such an activity depends on temperature, soil, moisture, and the amount of sunlight it gets.
Deciduous plants shed their leaves to save water as the dry winter hits. The Rosa Gigantea does the same. Since the plant grows in colder climates of the Himalayas, shedding leaves helps it to survive the harsh winters.
Manipur, the state in India that the flower is named after, experiences heavy precipitation. The region is known for its tropical rainforests. The annual rainfall in Manipur averages at 2700 mm. However, the winter months- starting from November and ending in February tend to be fairly dry. Being 2,600 ft above the sea level, the climate also cools down considerably, leeching out most sources of food, water and sunlight. This is why the Manipur wild Tea Rose sheds its leaves just before the winter months hit.
Leaves usually come with seven leaflets. These are not fully round, but elliptical, or oblong. They tapered at the top and have fine teeth at the edge of the leaves.
Flowers grow singly. Bunches of two or three flowers is rare to see. Their colors are usually white or cream. These are very sweet-scented flowers. The sepals, or the green growth at the base of the flower is not constricted. This gives the petals ample space to open and spread in. The flowers, as testament to their name are normally very large. In fact, the Rosa Gigantea flowers are the largest in all wild roses.
Roses do have a fruit. This is called the rose hip. They grow right below the petals and contain plant seeds. Normally, these fruits are beneficial for the skin and hair. However, in the Rosa Gigantea, a thin layer of hairs inside the fruit skin can cause mild irritation if eaten. An interesting fact about the rose hip fruit of the Rosa Gigantea is that unlike in Europe, when blooming in its native soil, the fruit is yellowish. It is a well known fruit in the area that is eaten in a variety of ways.
Uses of the Rosa Gigantea
The Rosa Genus in general is a flowering plant with many benefits. The Rose fruit especially, is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. In recent times, it has also been a part of Cancer research, to reverse or stop the growth of cancer cells.
The fruit of the plant is a rich source of Vitamin A, C, and, E. It is also a known source of Flavonoids and other actives. Incredibly, it is also rich in essential fatty acids. This is not commonly characteristic of a fruit. This makes the Rose Hip a very good addition to our diets.
The Nagas of North East India eat the fruit both raw and cooked. The Rosa Gigantea fruit, lives up to the name of the flower as well. Many of these fruits look more like a guava or apple. The colour depends on the country it is found in. Those in India look very dissimilar from its European counterpart. Amongst the many uses of this ‘false fruit’, the sap that the fruit produces is used as a syrup. It is fragrant an sweet, making it perfect for cooking into jams and sauces.
Dried rose hips are also a confectionary and baking favorite. The dried fruit makes for an excellent topping on anything from Ice cream to bread.
However, do remember that the hair on the skin can be an irritant or allergen for many. A good rule of thumb for any kind of Rose Hip to never eat it unprocessed. It causes major stomach issues and is known to cause extreme itching as well. The leaves themselves also edible. When young, the shoots are picked and can be eaten when cooked. The flower buds can be pickled as well.
The petals, like many roses, are edible too. They are used in everything from teas, wines to desserts and sorbets. Rosa Gigantea does especially well in this aspect since it has a very robust fragrance.
How to Grow the Rosa Gigantea
Growing the Manipur wild tea rose is not an easy job. First, it is a plant that grows in tropical, cold climates. Second, the seed takes around 2 years as well as some specific weather conditions to germinate well. Since the areas the plant is native to has both warm and cold weather, it is thought that the seeds need this change. The supposition is that the seeds need a spell of warm weather right after the cold temperatures to help mature it.
A method called Scarifying has been known to help it mature slightly faster. Scarifying means making changes by cutting, opening, breaking etc. the coat of a seed. This helps it to germinate faster, but can also weaken the plant and must be cultivated carefully. In the case of the Rosa Gigantea seeds, once the process of scarification is completed, they must be placed in moist peat. This peat must be at a temperature of 27 to 32degree Celsius. The seeds must be kept here for 2-3 weeks by which time the seeds should have gone through the process called ‘Imbibition’. That is to mean, the seeds enlarge, and are hydrated. After this they need to be maintained in 3 degree Celsius for 4 months. At this time the seed should have germinated.
Mostly however, the cuttings of the plant are used. This helps the plant to grow easily and it doesn’t have such precise requirements.
If you are planting saplings that are more than 25 cm, it is best to pot them in the summer. Another option is for it to spend winter in a frame and be planted late spring. This gives it both the heat of summer and the cold temperatures that mimics its native state.
History of the Flower
The Rosa Gigantea is a plant that had been known to the Naga tribe in India, for a very long time. It was a part of their diet as well. It was introduced to the rest of the world only in 1882 when Sir George Watt brings knowledge of the flower to Europe. However, it is first seen in a collection by Sir Henry Collett. Collet was a Colonel in the Bengal Army and had already made other discoveries and had written a botany book on flowers as well. He collected the Rosa Gigantea flowers in the Upper reaches of Burma called Shan Hills.
The first time the plant flowered in Europe was in 1896. It flowered in the garden of Lord Brougham at the Château Eléonore. In the Botanical garden at Kew, England, the plants started to grow. From here, in 1898, H. Cayeux, then the Director des Jardin et Promenades de la Ville der Havre receive some cuts and started a hybridization process. He writes that it took 4 years for a hybrid to fully flower. The first he named Etoile de Portugal. The next hybrid was made to help the flower withstand the colder, frosty climates of Europe. Belle Portugaise with its soft shell pink petals was born.
The flower after this was largely forgotten. However, reintroduced by Frank Kingdon Ward in 1948 in early spring, the interest started to grow again. War describes stems of the flowers he saw as being as large as a man’s arms. The original sample at the Château Eléonore did reach a girth of 5ft (1.52 m).
Places in the World Rosa Gigantea Grows
Since the flower grows in a very specific kin of climate, we do see the plant flowering only in certain areas in the world. Though a native of Manipur, the largest of all roses can also be found in modern day Myanmar, Yunnan in China. Interestingly, the sizes, girth and style all differ depending on the where the flowers come from. Those from India seem to e hardier and can survive in England are surrounding countries with just a few requirements. However, this specimen collected in China. It is thought that it is from this flower’s hybridization that the famous Chinese Tea Roses were born.
The Rosa Gigantea lives up to its name in more ways than one. It is the biggest of the Rose plants in the world. This flower possibly influenced the growth of many kinds of tea roses as well. The beautifully fragrant flower traveled from the Himalayan mountains all over the world despite being very shy to grow, and inspired many other flowers to follow in its footsteps.