Start main page content

Introducing the Wits rose

- Wits University

A magnificent rose commissioned to celebrate Wits University’s centenary and 100 years of excellence.

The Wits KORwiwara(P) rose was unveiled in the rose garden outside the William Cullen Library on Wits’ official 100th birthday, 4 October 2022.

Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Zeblon Vilakazi unveils the Wits rose

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, along with Cebolenkosi Khumalo, outgoing Students’ Representative Council President, and Ludwig Taschner, Director of Ludwig’s Rose Farm, which bred the Wits rose, planted the white-cream bloom in the rose garden outside the William Cullen Library on Braamfontein Campus East.

In attendance were approximately 40 people including members of the senior executive team; Professor Neville Pillay, Head of the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Science (APES) and Professor Mary Scholes; and Wits librarians including Margaret Atsango, Senior Librarian: Africana Collections & Services at the William Cullen Library, Salome Potgieter, Principal Librarian Science Libraries, Biophy Library; and Xoliswa Hobo, Principal Librarian, Library of Management.

L_R Halmar Taschner of Ludwig's Rose, Margaret Atsango, William Cullen librarian, Ludwig Taschner Ludwig's Roses, Salome Potgieter and Xoliswa Hobo, Wits librarians

Atsango comments, "On 13 September 2022, peering through my office window, I saw a bulldozer ripping off our old rose garden, I was  horrified! I was not privy to this great surprise awaiting us. After the weekend, I came back to a beautifully laid out rose garden, as if nothing had happened the previous week. I later learnt that Cullen library was one of the few official homes for this splendid rose. My greatest treasure and the 'icing on the cake' is that I got to plant this magnificent rose in my own garden. On behalf of all Wits library staff, and especially Cullen students and staff, I say thank you to everyone who made this possible."

A rose with Witsie resilience

Unveiling the rose outside William Cullen library, Vilakazi said, “This is a symbolic birthday rose. The special qualities of this rose variety are the very dense formation of very firm petals that give the open bloom the strength to withstand wind and rain, so therefore it will withstand all the elements for the next hundred or even thousand years – as I said in New York Times Square, right? This rose speaks about the values of this University: resilience, when you’ve gone through difficult times, you’ve had to withstand them, with resilience, as we’ve done throughout our history. Our history hasn’t been smooth, there’s been ups and downs, we were right front and centre in the fight against apartheid, and we continue to take on some of the big questions that very few institutions on this continent can.”

Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation paid tribute to Chris Ziyambi, and his team in Grounds and Waste Management in the Services Department, who not only prepared the rose garden, but who have worked tirelessly throughout the year to prepare campuses for centenary celebrations.

LtoR Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, Ludwig Taschner director Ludwigs Rose Farm and Cebolenkosi Khumalo SRC president plant the Wits rose commissioned for the University's centenary

A nose for a rose

It was the idea of Michelle Gallant, Events and Conference Organiser in Wits Functions and Events, to create a rose to commemorate Wits’ 100th.

“Roses are the darling of the garden world. Like men and women through the ages, I’ve been enchanted with their beauty, scent and meaning. A rose is a beautiful sentiment to memorialise a special occasion, a wedding, a birth of a child, the loss of a loved one. The University’s anniversary was no exception,” says Gallant.

L_R Ludwig Taschner director Ludwigs Roses, Halmar Taschner with WITS roses and Michelle Gallant of Wits Functions and Events whose idea it was to have a Wits centenary rose

An avid gardener and rose enthusiast herself, Gallant recalls numerous trips to Ludwig’s Rose Farm in Pretoria – during pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 – to check on the rose.

“I reached out to Ludwig by telephone to engage his services and later, in person at his farm in Pretoria – wearing masks – Covid!  I remember each visit filled with sage rose care advice, long walks amid rose-filled paths and lovey cappuccinos in the restaurant there. Our chats were always interrupted by rose enthusiasts wanting a quick selfie. Ludwig is one of the world’s renowned rose breeders and his passion for roses is equally matched with his humble, down-to-earth nature; a man of the soil. I must admit I was a bit star struck – Ludwig is like a rock star of the garden world,” says Gallant.

A rose by any other name …

In 1945, at the formation of the United Nations after World War II, a rose presented at the UN was named ‘Peace’ (formally ‘Madame a Meilland’) by the rose’s originator, Alain Meilland, named for his mother. However, German rose-growers who had the rose on trial during the war named it ‘Gloria Dei’, while Italian rose-growers christened it ‘Gioia’.

“It was decided by rose growers to give a new rose variety a varietal name, which may not be changed in another language/county, in combination with a fancy name. Application for new rose varieties can be made under Plant Patent [in the USA] or the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act in most other countries, under the international unique varietal name, but can be marketed under a fancy name in other countries,” says Ludwig.

Sometimes the quality of the rose suggests its name – Iceberg, Red Rover, Peach Melba, Fragrant Cloud – while others are named after family members, or after famous personalities.

“Ludwig’s Roses found that naming new rose varieties after schools and universities provides a steady stimulant for the public to purchase and plant such a rose in their gardens – how many old Wits students [alumni] … ?” says Ludwig.

Know your Wits rose

The new variety Wits rose is characterised by dense formation of firm petals that give the open blooms strength to withstand wind and rain and is disease resistant

The naming of the Wits KORwiwara(P) rose stems from Witwatersrand (‘wiwara’) while the (P) confirms the application for Plant Breeder’s Rights.

The special qualities of this new rose variety are the dense formation of very firm petals that give the open blooms the strength to withstand wind and rain, and to remain virtually unblemished.

The colour of the Wits rose is white with a tone of cream in the centre. A moderate scent lingers.

The bush is vigorous, but maintains a neat growth pattern with pickable flowers. The base of the bush is clothed with glossy, disease resistant foliage.

It may be grown as a specimen in the garden or in a pot, and can also be used for larger beds in free landscaping.

The variety falls into the Antico Moderno category that Ludwig’s came up with, meaning ‘modern antique’.

“The very old rose types had this flower shape and eventually they were looked down upon when the high pointed hybrid tea varieties arrive about 150 years ago,” says Ludwig. “But the new types are as vigorous, free flowering and comparable with all rose colour with the very dense petalled large blooms and straight strong stem.”

The Wits rose is for sale at Ludwig’s Rose Farm in Pretoria for R190.

How to breed a rose cultivar

For the flower fundis and amateur enthusiasts, Ludwig explains the process:

  • We take over the job from the bees and collect pollen from flowers of varieties that have particularly interesting characteristics
  • The pollen is refrigerated for a month or so
  • Then we look at the plants with flowers, which we have already decided will be a good ‘mother’, mostly showing vigour and good foliage
  • We emasculate the flowers by removing the pollen and then place the stored pollen onto the pistils. This should result in the growing and formation of hips with up to 20 seeds within it
  • At ripening time, about three months later, the hips are harvested, the actual seeds peeled out, cleaned and placed in a small plastic bag and back into the fridge, labelled as to mother and father
  • Two to three months in the fridge and the seed is taken out and sown in trays kept in a greenhouse.  Germination is expected within two to three months.
  • From then on it is watching out for the new leaves and flower formation – any with early signs of weakness (leaves, colour, petal firmness) are pulled up and thrown away.

“Of about 5000 seedlings, only about 100 remain to be trialled further as grown bushes. Finally, maybe 10 will be named. The process from cross-pollinating to naming a rose is a minimum of five years,” says Ludwig.