Breeders of Note: Joseph Pernet-Ducher

Ed Cunningham


As was noted in a previous article, although both England and France were hotbeds of breeding fashionable roses in the 19th century, the climate of France favored dominance by the French, and the English tended to chafe somewhat under this circumstance. In his "The Old Rose Advisor," Brent Dickerson recorded the experience of one Henry Bennett in that era.

In keeping with the scientific enthusiasm of his day (the atom would soon be discovered to be divisible, in 1897, by J.J. Thomson !), Mr. Bennett had "scientifically bred" livestock and had found that great improvements in the animals could be thereby attained. By 1865, he began to turn his attention to roses. In 1870, Mr. Bennett, a "chafed" Englishman, traveled to one of the hotbeds of French rose breeding: Lyon. The house of Guillot, the great Lacharme, Jean-Claude Ducher, and the house of Pernet, among others, were based there. Bennett found that artificial pollination, and the "scientific breeding" of roses were neglected. In fact, Bennett remarked that "Looking closer, I saw that raising seedlings in France was comparable to raising livestock on the Mexican prairies - everything was left to itself; a person would simply choose the best of what nature had to offer. This made me certain that before me lay an open, unexplored field." Bennett went on to some success, introducing both the `Duke of Connaught' " and the `Duchess of Connaught' among others.

But, the quantum leap, the paradigmatic break-through, was left to a native Lyonnaise: Joseph Pernet-Ducher.

Joseph Pernet was born in November of 1859, the son of a commercial rose breeder, Jean-Claude Pernet, one of the first hybridizers who sought out novelties....(Old Rose Adventurer, by Brent C. Dickerson, p. 493). You could say that "rose breeding was in his blood," and he pursued it with "scientific" vigor.

He "took the name `Pernet-Ducher' upon his marriage to Marie Ducher, daughter of the rose-breeders, in 1882;" a veritable rose breeding dynasty was in the making ! (`The Old Rose Advisor,' by Brent Dickerson, p. 275).

"Pernet-Ducher had noted that the roses grown around 1880-1885 didn't have sparkling coloring.." (The Old Rose Adventurer, by Brent C. Dickerson, p. 493). Additionally, the search for a "yellow rose" had become something of a "Holy Grail" for rose breeders.

"... one day he (Pernet-Ducher) was so impressed by the color of the 'Austrian Briar' ('Persian Yellow') that he conceived the ambition of transferring it to the garden roses (J. Dupeyrat, pp. 18-20). "By persevering with what little pollen was produced by 'Persian Yellow' (Rosa Foetida), Joseph raised an unsatisfactory seedling in 1891 from 'Antoine Ducher', a Hybrid Perpetual. This seedling was planted out in the nursery and in 1893 a yellow chance seedling was found nearby. It was introduced in 1900 as 'Soleil d'Or'. Using a Rosa foetida seedling, he obtained 'Rayon d'Or' in 1910; the first (golden) yellow Hybrid Tea, it is now recognized as the first of the Pernetianas and an important ancestor of 'Peace' " ( `The Quest for the Rose,' by Phillips & Rix, p. 114). "That was the origin of the magnificent strain of roses which has made his glory and which, as a just homage to his skill as creator, bears the name, Pernetiana... he won the Gold Medal of the International Contest of Bagatelle thirteen times, from 1907 to 1925..." (J. Dupeyrat, pp. 18-20).

In `Modern Garden Roses,' Peter Harkness expanded upon this, saying that "not only yellows, but also salmon, flame and apricot roses flowed from Pernet-Ducher's nursery, earning him the well-deserved soubriquet, the Wizard of Lyon."

But, Harkness' was not the only "homage" which his life and work earned:

"Whenever opportunity offered, [Wilhelm Kordes I] visited the great rose breeders, men who had traveled far down the road he longed to travel. At Lyon, he called upon Joseph Pernet-Ducher; the 'Grand Master', he called him ("The Makers of Heavenly Roses," by Jack Harkness, p. 100). Pernet-Ducher's "work can be said to be found in all our modern yellow garden roses. All have the blood of R. foetida in them, even if by now very much diluted by the mixing in of other strains... orange and flame colours must be attributed to it as well..." ("Fifty Favourite Roses," by John Mattock, p. 77).

And in the chapter he devoted to hybrid teas in "The Old Rose Advisor," Brent Dickerson acknowledged both the body, and the impact, of Pernet-Ducher's work when he wrote "We primarily cover in this chapter the non-Pernetiana Hybrid Teas of the early period .... The later Hybrid Teas as well as the Pernetianas and their descendants are no less interesting, but exist in such overwhelming battallions that they are best left alone for now, lest they swamp the book."

The only negative resulting from his breeding was that the R. Foetida genes that brought true yellow into cultivated roses also brought a substantial increase in susceptibility to blackspot. A roll call of his most important roses includes: Antoine Rivoire, Mme. Caroline Testout,

Cecile Brunner, Chateau de Clos Vougeot, Daily Mail Rose, Julien Potin, Rayon d'Or, and

Soleil d'Or.

But, things do not always work out as we would have them. The marriage of the offspring of two major rose-breeding families, the Pernets and the Duchers, did not mark the launching of a new rose dynasty. For, alas, their two sons were both killed in World War I, and now they live on in the vigorous roses that their heart-broken father dedicated to them: Souvenir de Claudius Pernet, and Souvenir de Georges Pernet. Their roses are still commercially available. Souv. De Claudius Pernet (a sun-flower yellow with fragrance) was used VERY extensively in breeding for many years. Reportedly, Souv. de Georges Pernet (an intensely fragrant salmon-pink) needs spraying, but is well worth it.

Joseph Pernet-Ducher died in November of 1928. His epitaph could be "Joseph Pernet-Ducher of Lyons, France, [was] an eccentric who was much loved by rosarians the world over... In 1900, he crossed R. foetida persiana with a seedling of a hybrid perpetual with red flowers, 'Antoine Ducher', and created 'Soleil d'Or', the ancestor of all our modern yellow roses..." ( Roses of America, p. 88).

(Sources are attributed; primary search engine was Helpmefind.com).


This article, reprinted from the Rhode Island Rose Review,
 won an ARS Award of merit for 2003




Web page designed and maintained by Patsy Cunningham and Andy Vanable. Please e-mail us with any website problems.
Date last edited: 01/21/10
2009 Rhode Island Rose Society. All Rights Reserved