CO-Horts Blog

Monday, December 27, 2021

Harison's Yellow Rose

Posted by: Linda Langelo, Golden Plains Area Extension

Driving around our small rural towns you will notice a yellow shrub rose. This yellow shrub rose has many names such as Pioneer Rose, Oregon Trail Rose, the Yellow Rose of Texas, Yellow Hogg's Rose, and Yellow Sweet Brier. Some of the locals here have called it Traveler's Rose or Settler's rose who have had the rose on their farm or homestead through the decades. And that's just a few of its names, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Its real name is Harison’s Yellow rose.
Harison's Yellow rose
Harison's Yellow rose (photo by Linda Langelo)
This was the first rose of yellow color in this country. This rose has traveled the country from east to west and back again. In the 1800s Richard and George Harison were amateur rosarians and kept a rose garden at their home in Manhattan on their estate Mount Sinai in a semirural area. Today Eighth and Ninth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets are now what was once their garden. The Harison brothers kept Persian Yellow (Rosa foetida) and Scotch Briar (Rosa spinosissima) in their garden. The parentage is still uncertain, but most agree that this must have been a chance hybridization between the Persian Yellow and Scotch Briar growing in Harison's garden.

After being discovered in Manhattan it was to be given to several nurserymen. Two of the nurserymen were Thomas Hogg and Williams Nursery. Some accounts say it was marketed in 1830 while others say it went on sale in 1835 at the Prince Nursery in Fleming, New York called 'Harison's Yellow'.

As the pioneers came west some of the pioneer women sewed the roots deep into their hems of their linsey-woolsey skirts. As they walked through the prairie grasses, the dew would moisten their skirts and keep the roots alive. More specifically, it came to Texas from the Prince Nursery by way of Emily D. West, a freeborn African American who contracted with the entrepreneur James Morgan to work as a servant in the town of New Washington. When the revolution for Texan independence from Mexico engulfed New Washington, Emily West became a hero. On April 21, 1836, at Santa Ana Camp Emily distracted the revolutionary leader Sam Houston long enough to give her countrymen time to stage a surprise attack. After 1837, she went back to New York and was never heard from again except in song and lyrics from a folk tune titled, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. Emily, the maid of Morgan’s Point was of mixed race, a mulatto. With her light complexion she was known colloquially as “yellow”. She was memorialized as “the sweetest little rosebud, that Texas ever knew.”

Texans of the Knights of the Yellow Rose use a yellow rose to pin to their lapels when they convene every April on the site of Santa Ana camp and pay tribute to Emily West. The Dallas Area Historical Rose Society’s newsletter, The Yellow Rose, annually features a yellow rose on the cover. The Harison’s Yellow rose has been used among other yellow roses.
Harison's Yellow rose in the author's landscape
Harison's Yellow rose in my landscape (photo by Linda Langelo)
Today this rose is found in many mountain and prairie communities across Colorado growing best in zone 3. This rose grows in cool, dry weather. It has sharp thorns and forms suckers on its own roots. The best part is that it is hardy. It tolerates full sun to part shade, drought, poor soils, and pests. It is said it takes more than one attempt to get this established. I have not found that to be so. My neighbor gave me permission to take one root and shoot from my neighbor's yard, and it is 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide three years later. Truly this plant thrives on neglect.


  1. Great story and blog. Thanks.

  2. Interesting story about local lore and Rosa 'Harison's Yellow'.

    Not an expert in history, especially Texas history, but the story about Emily West and the Battle of San Jacinto has never been verified. Also, even if elements of it were true, it would have been the Mexican general, not Houston, the commander of the Texan forces, who West would have "distracted" as described in the post.
    More info:

  3. I'm curious to know if Harison's yellow rose has been grafted onto root stock that does not produce suckers. I bought 2 at a local nursery years ago. The yellow rose died out and I was was left with a fuscia-colored rose that came up from the ground.

    1. I found some information for you from a Master Rosarian at the Denver Rose Society. The most common rootstock in this part of the country is 'Dr. Huey'. I have heard that for years even when I lived on the east coast. Apparently according to the owner of High Country Roses, Harison's Rose is difficult to propagate so sale stock comes from suckers. As I get more information I will pass it along. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for this great posting, Linda! My grandmother had a spectacular example of the Harrison Rose growing in her yard for decades at her ranch near Steamboat Springs and shared it with many people across the state. I know of at least three people in Extension who have starts from this bush. Thanks for bringing a summer smile to my face on a snowy day. :)

    1. Love hearing this! Keep smiling! Glad you got snow!

  5. I will have to research that and get back to you. You could ask the nursery where they purchased the roses. It might take you back to the breeder.

  6. I love this post Linda!
    I particularly love that the women sewed the roots in their skirts so the dew would keep them alive.
    Im curious where you found the history of this rose and if your source gives history of other heirloom plants?


  7. Very interesting story about how the pioneer women brought the rose to the west on their wagon trains coming here.

  8. I had a bush that looked like this on a farm in Kansas. It had a fantastic aroma! I was told it was an Agnes, but have never been able to find it.