Thornless Roses

Most rose gardeners learn to accept thorns with a quiet resignation, arming themselves against the less-pleasant tasks of rose care with gauntlet gloves and loppers. But did you know that technically, roses don’t have thorns? All of those projections along the stem are really called prickles, which help protect the plant against predators.

Prickles are small outgrowths from the plant’s outer layer and can easily be broken off. Thorns are modified branches embedded deep within the stem’s structure.

Some roses like Antique and Goethe (pictures 1 and 2) have daunting thorns. Thérèse Bugnet or Zéphirine Drouhin (pictures 3 and 4) are friendlier options. Thérèse Bugnet also produces colorful red stems in winter.

Location, Location

Thornless varieties are useful when roses are planted along walkways or other high-traffic areas. They are also a great idea for children’s gardens, elderly gardeners, or anyone who has let thorns get in the way of enjoying the world’s most popular flower.

Fortunately, nature provides exceptions to the “every rose has a thorn” rule. While there are not many, some truly thornless roses do exist. A number of “nearly thornless” roses are available, which have scattered thorns along the stem. Certain roses, such as Polyanthas, tend to have fewer thorns as a class. Here’s a list of thornless and nearly thornless roses:

Thornless Roses*

  • Bleu Magenta (Hybrid Multiflora, mauve)
  • Chloris (Alba, light pink, very fragrant)
  • Goldfinch (Hybrid Multiflora, light yellow/white, fragrant)
  • Hippolyte (Gallica, mauve/red blend)
  • Kathleen Harrop (Bourbon, light pink, fragrant)
  • Lady Banks Rose (Species, white or yellow)
  • Lykkefund (Large-flowered Climber, white/light yellow)
  • Mme. Legras de St. Germain (Alba, white, fragrant)
  • Mme. Plantier (Alba, white, fragrant)
  • Tausendschön (Hybrid Multiflora, pink blend)
  • Veilchenblau (Hybrid Multiflora, mauve, fragrant)
  • Zéphirine Drouhin (Bourbon, medium pink, fragrant)

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Near-Thornless Roses

  • A Shropshire Lad (Shrub, David Austin, yellow blend)
  • Aimée Vibert (Noisette, white, fragrant)
  • Bride's Dream (Hybrid Tea, light pink)
  • Cardinal de Richelieu (Gallica, mauve, fragrant)
  • China Doll (Polyantha, medium pink/light pink)
  • Climbing Iceberg (Climbing Floribunda, white)
  • Climbing Pinkie (Climbing Polyantha, medium pink)
  • Clotilde Soupert (Polyantha, white)
  • Complicata (Gallica, pink blend, single)
  • Cornelia (Hybrid Musk, pink blend/yellow blend, fragrant)
  • Crépuscule (Noisette, apricot blend)
  • Crown Princess Margareta (Shrub, David Austin, apricot blend)
  • Frau Karl Druschki (Hybrid Perpetual, white)
  • Geoff Hamilton (Shrub, David Austin, medium pink)
  • Ghislaine de Féligonde (Hybrid Multiflora, light yellow/yellow blend, fragrant)
  • Golden Showers (Large-flowered Climber, medium yellow)
  • Heritage (Shrub, David Austin, light pink, very fragrant)
  • J.P. Connell (Shrub, medium yellow/light yellow)
  • James Galway (Shrub, David Austin, light pink/medium pink)
  • John Clare (Shrub, David Austin, deep pink/light red, fragrant)
  • La Marne (Polyantha, pink blend)
  • Lady Hillingdon (Tea, yellow blend, fragrant)
  • Leander (Shrub, apricot blend)
  • Mlle. Cécile Brunner (Polyantha, light pink)
  • Mme. Alfred Carriére (Noisette, white, fragrant)
  • Mortimer Sackler (Shrub, David Austin, light pink)
  • Oceana (Hybrid Tea, apricot blend)
  • Outta the Blue (Shrub, mauve)
  • Paul Neyron (Hybrid Perpetual, medium pink)
  • Pure Perfume (Shrub, white)
  • Reine des Violettes (Hybrid Perpetual, mauve, fragrant)
  • Rose-Marie Viaud (Hybrid Multiflora, mauve)
  • The Generous Gardener (Shrub, David Austin, light pink)
  • Thérèse Bugnet (Hybrid Rugosa, medium pink, fragrant)
  • Tuscany Superb (Gallica, mauve, fragrant)

*as per Combined Rose List; some thornless varieties may have a rare thorn or two, or small thorns.