François Crépin and the Study of Wild Roses


Crépin never found a satisfactory answer to the riddle of how to best define a natural species, yet he continued to maintain that increasing the number of named species was not the right thing to do. He wanted to reduce the thousands of described species to a limited number of well-defined species with variations, which could be classified in a way that reflected their natural affinities. This required that the large majority of ‘book species’ be reduced to the status of varieties or forms.

Crépin exchanged herbarium specimens, and sent and received reprints of papers and contributions in numerous periodicals and floras. In thousands of letters to and from rose enthusiasts - ranging from local naturalists to botanists from the major herbaria worldwide - he dealt with questions relating to the identification, classification and nomenclature of roses.

Over the years, Crépin became a world authority on roses, located at the centre of a self-constructed large botanical network. He corresponded with, among others, Alexandre Boreau, Pierre Alfred Déséglise and James Lloyd, all three living and working in France, along with Emile Burnat in Switzerland, Philipp Wilhelm Wirtgen in Germany, John Gilbert Baker in England and George Engelmann in the United States. Discussing the taxonomy of the wild roses of Central Europe, Crépin exchanged a series of letters with Swiss botanist Konrad H.H. Christ. This was a plant group Crépin knew well, having studied it in the field during excursions in the Alps.

Crépin was increasingly contacted by horticulturists who valued his advice. He collaborated with Jules Gravereaux, from the French Roseraie de L’Haÿ and from 1881 began to write short contributions for Journal des Roses, a periodical primarily aimed at lovers of cultivated roses. For the publication of a sketch of a new classification of the wild, or ‘botanical’, roses of the world he chose, rather surprisingly, the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society (1889). A French translation of the sketch was later published in Journal des Roses. In letters to the author, readers of the sketch expressed their gratitude for Crépin’s efforts to bring order to contemporary rose-chaos by reducing the thousands of described taxa to some tens of species.