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A Star (Rose) Is Born

The Barbra Streisand, a new hybrid, is part of a long line of blooms made more popular by their celebrity names.

November 24, 1999|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A rose by any other name might not generate as much demand.

A new hybrid rose, created by an Upland horticulturist and named after mega-diva Barbra Streisand, goes on sale next month, and demand for the highly fragrant, lavender bud is creating the kind of unbridled excitement that happens when tickets go on sale for a Streisand concert.

For celebrities, acquiring a namesake rose is the horticultural equivalent of receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nurseries like it because fan appeal and name recognition boost sales.

Which may explain why the Streisand isn't the only celebrity rose coming to market in time for the planting season that starts in December in Southern California.

In addition to the Streisand rose, gardeners can buy the 'Rosie O'Donnell' (which has petals with red interiors and yellow exteriors), the 'LeAnn Rimes' (yellow with pink-tipped petals), and the 'Diana, Princess of Wales' (a delicate pink), the latest of several roses named for the late princess. These join dozens of other superstar buds that have been on the market for years.

So far, the Streisand rose appears to be the hottest seller among the newcomers. Hortus Nursery in Pasadena featured the Streisand rose in a recent catalog and customers call about it every day. An Oregon-based mail-order company, Edmunds' Roses, reported that as many as 85% of its recent orders include the Streisand rose.

"A good name is very important in the marketing," said Tom Carruth, the hybridizer at Weeks Roses in Upland who created and registered the rose with Streisand's blessing. Carruth is no stranger to celebrity rose-naming. He helped create roses named for the late comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen and for singer Lynn Anderson.

Streisand, an avid gardener who has more than 600 rose plants at her Malibu home, approached Carruth in 1996 in search of a rose to call her own. Carruth said he gave her three choices and she selected the lavender seedling.

(Streisand is making no money from the rose, but celebrities may negotiate a cut from the sale of "their" rose.)

Generally speaking, it is easier to name a newborn than a rose.

A hybridizer--the person who creates a new rose by combining the characteristics of two or more existing roses--must register a new rose with the American Rose Society, a nonprofit organization located near Shreveport, La. If a rose is being named for someone, the society requires a letter of authorization from that person. Once the society's registration committee approves an application, the rose is added to its international registry. Most hybridizers also seek a patent from the U.S. Patent Office to keep others from marketing the same rose.

The entire process could take as long as 10 years, said Carruth, who has a patent pending on the Streisand rose.

Steve Gerischer, a plantsman at Hortus Nursery, said a celebrity name does not guarantee a quality rose. For example, he said 'Lucille Ball,' a marmalade-orange rose that matches the hair of the late comedian, is a fragile plant with a weak stock. Fans may love Lucy, but because of the rose's problems, few nurseries carry it, he said.

On the other hand, he said, the 'Ingrid Bergman,' a classic red rose with a huge bloom, has long been a favorite among gardeners for its color and resilience.

Politics and fading celebrity can also work against a good rose. Gerischer said the 'Barbara Bush' variety is a healthy pink rose with a sweet fragrance. But he said the rose doesn't sell as well as it did when President Bush was in office.

"It's a really good rose but because politically she has faded from the scene, it's not as popular," he said. "The winds change and things tend to drop by the wayside."

A Stellar Lineup

The following are other celebrity-named roses available in nurseries and mail-order catalogs.

'Queen Elizabeth,' pink, small blooms, medium fragrance.

'John F. Kennedy,' large white blooms, strong fragrance.

'Pablo Picasso,' red, with white and yellow accents.

'Judy Garland,' yellow and orange, mid-size plant.

'Gina Lollobrigida,' large golden-yellow blooms.

'Dolly Parton,' large red blooms, strong fragrance.

'Catherine Deneuve,' peach-colored, thick foliage.

'Eva Gabor,' pink, light green foliage.

'Ginger Rogers,' salmon pink, delicate blooms.

'Reba McEntire,' bright orange-red, grows in big clusters.

'Jane Pauley,' another bright orange-red, hardy foliage.

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