Wednesday, 8 July 2020

A thorny issue

Recently, I was impaled on the knuckle of my left hand by an old rose thorn. Not an unusual occurrence for a working gardener but this time the snag left a lingering soreness. Several days later my hand was severely swollen and I could barely move my middle fingers. Thinking potential blood poisoning, I went to see my doctor for help. After consultation I was prescribed an antibiotic and promptly began my treatment. Within three days my hand was feeling better and a week later I was back to normal.

Rose, by Jobo

While hardly the first time I had been stabbed by a rose this infection made me appreciate the joys of thornless roses as well as antibiotics.The biggest danger in having thorny roses is not when they are grown as bushes but when they are used as a climber near paths and high-traffic areas.

Although not totally thornless, Crépuscule  is the perfect choice for a moderate  growing climber to grow over an arch or fence . It has attractive red new growth and the flowers almost glow in late afternoon light
There are a number of thornless climbing roses which look great in warm temperate gardens. Who can go past the Banksia Roses for their thornless canes and robustness. Coming in white and golden forms this climber covers a large pergola with little effort. So mighty is this plant that one late 19th century specimen in Arizona is said to be the largest growing rose in the world. Its main flowering season is in spring but can spot flower during other times. 
Zéphirine Drouhin, is a moderate growing climber known for its vivid pink flowers and lovely fragrance.
From a distance Renae, looks more like a luxuriant climber than a rose. The plant has disease resistant soft pink repeat flowers and glossy green leaves and is suitable for growing over a shed or over a small pergola. Lovely fragrance. Another fine pink climber is China Doll, a fragrant rose that is almost always in flower in a warm temperate climate.
While not completly thornless the Tea Rose Crépuscule makes a lovely choice for growing along a fence or over an arch.

While researching this article I discovered that it was a wound given by a rose to the cheek of an English policeman at the beginning of World War Two that saw the first human trials with the wonder drug penicillin, an antibiotic first identified in the 1920s by Englishman Alexander Flemming (1881-1955). 

Australian- born scientist Howard Florey

In 1941 Albert Alexander scratched his face on a rose thorn. He was soon suffering from severe blood poisoning and was close to death. After an earlier successful experiment on mice the Oxford University research team led by Howard Florey (1898-1968) decided on a human trial and penicillin was administered to the patient. The policeman's temperature began to reduce and after five days he seemed to be on the road to recovery, but with the marked improvement of the patient and stocks of the new antibiotic being critically low the treatment was stopped. This neglect proved fatal and the patient soon died. This first experiment taught the scientists that antibiotic treatment, although effective, had to be followed for a full course. By late 1943 penicillin was being given to British soldiers in North Africa and soon became the first of many antibiotics which have saved millions of lives around the world.


  1. Such simple incidents with such far-reaching outcomes, Silas. It's always nice to get some background.

  2. As always thanks for your comment. I think we can always relate to the effects of a rose thorn.


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