I grow roses in my garden and would never think of cutting one before its prime. However, when it comes to buying roses locally, I choose blooms that are still tight in the bud. Why the disconnect? It’s mainly habit, I suppose, and the fact that we Americans are only beginning to discover the perks of Russian-cut roses.
Russian-cut roses are not actually grown in Russia
Russian-cut roses are a common cut in Europe, but contrary to what their name implies, they are not grown in Russia. Rather, the term refers to roses that were harvested at the peak of their development; a time when their petals are more mature as opposed to the more common practice of cutting them when their buds are still tight. This makes for a rose with larger, more open blooms, longer stems and improved performance.
Why are they called Russian?
The term Russian-cut comes from the Russian tradition of giving a single, spectacular bloom as a token of appreciation. As an old Russian saying* goes,
“A saying is a flower, a proverb is a berry.”
Angelica Privalihin “My Red Rose”
Of course this differs substantially from the American tradition of giving one dozen roses. (By the way, in Russia giving a bouquet of flowers in even numbers is considered very bad luck and a major faux-pas.)
Why this method works
Evidence shows that roses that are left longer on the stem develop brighter colors and larger, more spectacular blooms than roses harvested in the tight-bud stage. This takes some patience to achieve. Growers must wait one to two weeks longer than normal before harvesting their Russian-cut roses. Doing this enables them to reap big rewards: the blooms typically average 50 % larger, and they last just as long or even longer than traditional, tight-cut flowers.
Why is this so? Because extending the growth period allows the flowers to absorb more nutrients that in turn allows them to continue to grow and develop. Longer nutrition and exposure to sunlight provides more sugars to the stems and leaves of the plant. The rose then uses this extra energy to produce bigger blossoms.
Nowadays these spectacular roses, which can feature 3 foot stems and blooms measuring 3.5 to 4 inches across, are mostly grown high in the Andes in Ecuador and Colombia.
Rose harvest in Ecuador
Of course it costs growers more to wait the extra week and then package and ship larger flowers. There’s a premium for these larger blooms. But if you’re looking to make a big impact, you can’t do better.
So far, in the United States where Russian-cut roses are also known as European or Designer-cut, buyers are not entirely convinced, still holding on to the belief that normal, tight cut roses will last longer in the vase. They’re not entirely willing to pay the higher price for Russian cut roses, either. I’m guessing the exception to the rule is weddings, where a big impact is usually the goal. Perhaps we should begin applying that thinking to our everyday flower purchases.
*Mertvago, P. (1996). The comparative russian-english dictionary of russian proverbs & sayings. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books.