Shocking attack on a century-old historic rose

by Carla Robinson
Posted 7/12/23

Someone hacked away at the Tausendschon rose that has been growing up the front of the historic Wyck house for more than 113 years.

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Shocking attack on a century-old historic rose


Sometime between the close of business on Wednesday, June 28, and the following morning, someone hacked away at the Tausendschon rose that has been growing up the front of the historic Wyck house on the 600 block of Germantown Avenue for more than 113 years, pulling it off its trellis to shave off two thirds of the living plant material. 

Whether they did it for theft, or just for spite, is unclear. But whatever the reason, they may well have killed it. Roses are particularly susceptible to disease after they have been cut, particularly at this time of year, when heat and humidity can foster fungus. 

The museum’s horticulturalists are working to try and save what remains.

“We are hopeful that we can treat this plant, and that it will survive,” said Wyck’s executive director, Kim Staub. “But at this point, we just don’t know if we can. We have no idea if they sanitized their pruners, for instance.”

The oldest of the three roses that climb on the front of the house, the vandalized rose is among the museum's most historically important. It was planted in 1910 by Jane Bowne Haines II, an 8th-generation resident of Wyck who founded the first school of horticulture for women in the United States – which is now Temple University’s Ambler Campus.

“That one rose is significant just because of how old it is, and who planted it,” said Staub. “It’s just heartbreaking, and so hard to believe how someone could destroy a plant like that. It was the brazenness of the amount that they took, and the damage they did to the whole plant.”

This variety of rose, whose name means “1,000 beauties,”  was first introduced in 1906, just a few years before it was first planted. It is still being commercially produced and costs about $40 online – one more reason the vandalism presents such a mystery.

“It doesn’t quite make sense to us, since this is a variety that you can easily buy,” said Staub. “At this point we’re thinking that someone just saw it in bloom, liked it, and thought they’d take some cuttings.”

If the rose does survive, it will be many years before it looks anything like it once did, since it grows only a couple of inches per year, Staub said. 

Wyck is part of Historic Germantown, a partnership of 18 historic houses, destinations and museums in Northwest Philadelphia that have joined together to protect, preserve and share some of Philadelphia’s prized historical assets. Loretta Witt, who chairs the board, said it is important not to overreact to events like this, and to always remember its core mission. 

“It is very sad, is it not?” Witt said. “I can only say that none of us in Historic Germantown’s 18 sites can wall ourselves off from the community. We have an obligation to preserve the very special inheritance that we enjoy from previous generations of the German township. Our challenge is to find that balance that allows us to share the history, and to share the stories, while preserving the inheritance we all share.”

The 18th-century Wyck has one of the most significant historic rose collections in the United States. It has more than 50 varieties, some of which are 200 years old, and they are an integral part of Philadelphia’s rich horticultural heritage. 

For students of botany and history, Wyck’s rose garden is an irreplaceable genetic bank for many heritage cultivars, as well as a living example of the nation's ever-evolving horticultural practices. Its collection includes more than 100,000 manuscripts and artifacts, including diaries and plant records. And the variety of roses that have been planted there tell important stories of Philadelphia's past – settlers who brought roses from their native lands, of Victorian rose fever that led to the hybridization of new varieties, and of the shifts in horticultural techniques over centuries.

One of the garden’s oldest varieties is the Pink Leda, which is thought to be growing at Wyck since the late 1700s. Two others, the Elegant Gallica and Lafayette roses, were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered at Wyck in the 1970s by rosarian Leonie Bell. 

The oldest "Apothecary's Rose" dates back to the late 1600s. Known scientifically as Rosa gallica officinalis, this rose was widely used in the medieval era for its medicinal properties. 

Wyck propagates its historic roses for its living collection, so anyone can attend one of its annual spring plant sales to buy one of their own. 

“We usually take cuttings from our more special roses, the ones that you can’t buy commercially and are harder to find,” Staub said.