Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ (Butterfly Rose)

Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis' in a cemetery

Rosa mutabilis is best known for the way each flower changes colours, often over a single day.

Rosa mutabilis flower at the pale stage

The petals have a luminous, sheeny quality.

Rosa mutabilis with peachy-orange flower

Rosa mutabilis flower turns from peachy to pink

Most descriptions say that the flowers open buttery-yellow, then turn via apricot-copper to pink, deepening to crimson.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis'

Crimson is perhaps a step too far, but my pictures show that orange-red buds should be thrown in the mix.

Butterfly rose (Rosa mutabilis)

While the rose is clearly true to its Latin name, ‘mutabilis’, which means ‘changeable’, the individual flowers may look less like the butterflies of its folk name.

Almost all shrub roses move even in the gentlest wind. While the heaviest doubles have a ponderous, rolling bounce; lighter, single-flowered roses like these often seem to flutter on their stems. Rosa mutabilis has slender, wiry stems that hold each flower alone, rather than in clusters, at different angles over the plant. Add in the various colours and you have a butterfly effect.

Rosa mutabilis has an airy, open habit that allows it to beautifully combine with other flowers, which have space to grow around and even within the frame of the plant, like a real-life flower arrangement.

It really prefers a warmer climate than the UK (although it feels ironic to write that on the day when Britain’s temperature tops 40°C for the first time and Network Rail has a ‘Do not travel’ warning in place). I’ve often seen Rosa mutabilis in Mississippi where it makes a fine, medium-large shrub and produces sweetly scented flowers in flushes. Our friend Robert might add,  ‘Rather too large’, as it is swamping out his irises. Several of these pictures were taken in Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, MS.

It is less often grown in the UK where it tends to be smaller, although in a sunny, sheltered spot, it can do very well. A couple of years ago, we just missed seeing it in full flower, trained as a climber against a beautiful old stone building at Cothay Manor. Even covered in spent flowers, it was an impressive plant – well over 2m (6 ft 6) high and wide.

Synonyms include Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’ and Rosa ‘Tipo Ideale’.

This is part of an occasional series of posts about unusual roses. 

34 Replies to “Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ (Butterfly Rose)”

    1. Some of the older roses have folk names, eg Chestnut rose, Burnet rose, Rosa Mundi. I doubt that many modern ones will get them, although time might prove otherwise.

  1. “Rosa mutabilis is best known for the way each flower changes colours, often over a single day.” I have always wondered when I noticed this thank you for the information.

  2. Oh, yes, butterflies! What a clever rose! That first photo definitely appears to be butterfly-dense. I’m so glad you pointed out that bright little bud — can you believe I missed it? The roses look so delicate, especially in that apricot color; I think I can imagine their fluttering all over the bush. What I can’t imagine is the heat there. I hope you and all the beautiful gardens that flourish there will be all right.

    1. I can hardly believe it and suspect you must have been in a poet’s reverie. We are fine, thank you, so far at least. I wish I felt sure the next generation will be.

    1. I’d have expected the colours to fade, but then fruit often ripens to a rosy colour, so perhaps it’s not so surprising.

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