Native California Roses

copyright Barbara Ertter, 2001
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Discovery of Rosa minutifoliaEngelm.
"Ensenada Rose"
As if Rosa minutifolia were not intriguing enough in its own right, the events and controversy surrounding its discovery are equally fascinating. The full story is detailed by Lenz (1982) under the apt title of "The Thorny Rose Affair," and also plays a pivotal role in Lenz's biography of Marcus E. Jones (Lenz, 1986). The story begins in April 1882, when chance brought together a group of field botanists in San Diego, who then decided to undertake a joint expedition to northern Baja California, as far south as the Ensenada area. Charles Christopher Parry (age 54), a veteran of the Mexican Boundary Survey and several other federally sponsored expeditions, was the well-respected senior member of the party. Parry's narrative, written shortly after the expedition returned, was published some 47 years later (Parry, 1929). The three other botanical participants were Cyrus Gurnsey Pringle (age 44), Marcus E. Jones (age 30), and Charles Russell Orcutt (age 16). Orcutt, who would go on to specialize in the plants of the Southwestern and Mexican deserts, served as cook and driver of the wagon that had been hired from the Orcutt family. Another Orcutt (brother, accordingly to Lenz [1982, 1986], father, according to Jepson in a footnote to Parry [1929]) also accompanied the party.

Marcus Eugene Jones, 1882 (JEPS herbarium archives) Charles Christopher Parry, undated (JEPS herbarium archives) Cyrus Gurnsey Pringle, ca 1878 (JEPS herbarium archives) Charles Russell Orcutt, ca 1908 (UC herbarium archives)

Pringle, an accomplished botanist who had his own wagon and driver, departed before the discovery of Rosa minutifolia and accordingly played no part in the subsequent controversy. Both Jones and Orcutt were at the beginning of what would become significant careers as field botanists, and the events that happened on this trip would set the stage for future developments in their respective careers. Rather than recreate the wheel, the masterful account by Lenz (1986) is quoted here as a synopsis of the fateful events:

"It was on the 12th that Rosa minutifolia was discovered growing along the side of the road on the protected slopes of the hills just inland from the beach. The controversy which arose and was to cause so much ill feeling between Jones and others revolved around who first discovered the rose and Jones's accusation that Parry stole his rose. As conspicuous as the rose was, and still is, it seems conceivable that the four may have seen it at about the same time and it may have been that Jones was the first to lay his hands on it. On April 14 Parry, Jones and Orcutt again camped at the Valley of Palms and the following day drove to Tijuana. Being so near San Diego, Parry was anxious to return to his wife at the hotel and on Sunday got Orcutt to take him into town. Jones never traveled on Sunday unless it was absolutely necessary and refused to leave Tijuana until Monday, at which time Orcutt and his brother returned to take him to San Diego. It was at this time that Jones is reported to have pointed a pistol at one of the brothers and threatened him. The reason for this alleged irrational behavior is not known. There were no witnesses and we are left with only the statements made by the principals. Jones never denied or confirmed the change and we do not know in how threatening a manner the pistol was held. Following this incident came Jones's charge that Parry stole his rose and the matter was the subject during the next few months of an exchange of letters between Parry, George Engelmann, Asa Gray, Sereno Watson and others. Finally Jones wrote Engelmann asking him to hold up on publishing the name until a decision was made as to who discovered the rose. However the new rose was officially described in the August issue of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Parry [1882] having written the article in which Engelmann's description was included. . . .

Lenz continues:

"It is clear that in the controversy Engelmann did not wish to alienate Jones, whom he recognized as an enthusiastic young collector of numerous new plants and from whom he wished to receive further novelties. And he clearly did not wish to destroy a close and longstanding friendship with Parry. In his formal description of the rose, Engelmann merely wrote, 'Described from specimens sent by C. C. Parry and M. E. Jones.' Here the matter should have rested, but Parry continued to bring up Jones's name with other botanists and always in an unfavorable way; as for example when he wrote Engelmann saying, '. . . But what avails it all if we are to be 'responsible' to Jones who may swoop down on us from the 'Sierra' any Monday with loaded revolver and force us into a thicket of Rosa horrida or impale us on a cushion of Cereus maritimus!! I wonder how you maintain your equanimity with such a jackass, to let him keep braying in your ears.' . . .
"There can be no doubt that Jones's reputation was irrevocably damaged by events which took place on the trip to Ensenada, unfortunately coming early in his career when he could least afford unfavorable publicity. It is also likely that he was affected psychologically by the experience as he refers to the matter many times throughout the remainder of his life, repeating over and over again the events of February[sic] 1882, each time with slightly different details." (pp. 52--53)

Lenz goes on to note that "Certainly Jones's personality did not make him a particularly attractive traveling companion. Even the gentle Quaker Pringle had remarked about his behavior and Engelmann had warned Parry. 'When you are with active young fellows like Jones, you must look to your laurels'" (p. 56).

Nevertheless, "The rose affair was eventually forgotten and remained so for nearly fifty years until . . . it was resurrected by W. L. Jepson in 1929" (Lenz, 1986, pp. 56--57). This was in the form of "a lengthy and incredibly inaccurate footnote" (p. 206) to the posthumous publication of Parry's account of the expedition (Parry, 1929). The mutual antipathy that had by this time developed between Jones and Willis Linn Jepson is clearly evident in Jepson's version of the fateful expedition:

"On this expedition there was collected a large amount of new material which has since become classical. The major-domo of the party was H. C. Orcutt of San Diego, assisted by his son, C. R. Orcutt. Here it was that the younger Orcutt acquired, under the influence of Dr. Parry, an interest in collecting plants and turned plant collector for life. Another member of the party was C. G. Pringle, a prince of plant-collectors, whose name was well-known to botanists everywhere. . . .The Orcutts were Sabbatarians and when it came to the Lord's Day they proposed, as a matter of course, that neither man nor beast should travel. A fifth member of the party drew a gun and forced the Orcutts to proceed. It is unnecessary to say that neither the high minded Parry nor the considerate and friendly Pringle had anything to do with this coercion." (p. 218)

Lenz, Lee W. 1982. The thorny rose affair: discovery and naming of Rosa minutifolia. Aliso 10:187--217.

Lenz, Lee W. 1986. Marcus E. Jones: western geologist, mining engineer and botanist. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA. 486 pages.

Parry, Christopher C. 1882. A new North American rose. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 9: 97--98.

Parry, Christopher C. 1929. From San Diego to the Bay of All Saints, Lower California, and back.--Notes of a botanist visiting Mexican soil. Madroño 1: 218--221. [posthumous publication of an 1882 narrative, written 22 Apr 1882; footnote by W.L. Jepson on p. 218]

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