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ABC News
Sarah Moss

Named for 9/11 rescuers and Black Saturday heroes, the Firefighter is the perfect Valentines rose

A Firefighter rose bush was planted at NSW Government House in 2009 to acknowledge Black Saturday firies.

A long-stemmed rose is traditionally the flower of Valentine's Day, and people will most certainly be on the lookout for the red variety next week.

This year a budding romance is blooming for one in particular — a hybrid tea, dark-red, highly fragrant rose named the Firefighter.

It is a flower recognised at Australian agricultural shows but not well represented at flower markets.

Bred by Joseph Orard in France in 1998, the rose was appropriated to commemorate firefighters who lost their lives in the terrorist attack on New York's Twin Towers in 2001.

The intensely fragrant, long-stemmed rose was introduced to Australia in 2009 by rose grower and distributor Ben Swane and was used to commemorate volunteers who risked their lives during the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires.

According to Lyndall Turner, secretary of the Southern Sydney Rose Society, this intense red rose is one of the most fragrant of all the red roses and hardy enough for our climate.

"It is disease-resistant and almost thornless," she said.

"Given the hot dry season we have experienced, this rose is a good selection as it can withstand periods of intense heat."

National president of the Rose Society of Australia, Colin Hollis, is encouraging a greater uptake of the Firefighter.

"As it's been such a dreadful fire season, one way we can acknowledge the work the volunteer bush fire brigade has been doing is to plant Firefighter roses, at the fire brigade in Loftus, and other stations across the county," he said.

The 'war on roses'

The bulk of roses sold in Australia are imported, either from Kenya or Ecuador.

Like many things, local producers cannot compete with the constant flow of roses produced by cheap labour.

"The first lot of roses came from South Africa because South Africa was often the last port of call before [travellers] came to Australia, so they bought some roses out," Mr Hollis said.

He said most people got their plants from major chain hardware stores these days.

"There are a couple of specialist nurseries left [in his area] — there's one at Fitzroy Falls and [one] in Dural, but there are very few specialised rose nurseries left," Mr Hollis said.

He is based in the New South Wales Illawarra region and is a huge advocate for the rose and its role in our traditions.

But he fears for the flower's future.

"I used to grow a lot of roses here in Jamberoo, and in fact we always had a Valentine's Day stall in Kiama," Mr Hollis said.

"In years gone by I've taken up to 50 long-stemmed red roses to our store, but that's dropped off.

"I don't grow so many roses these days. The tradition has died off, as so many traditions have."

For the love of the rose

Most of the roses growing in Australia today are for personal use in the home but there is a very strong competitive element among rose growers too.

Minnamurra couple Jack and Barbara Evans' garden features just under 200 rose bushes, which they have been lovingly tending for over a decade.

"We have a Firefighter rose [but] only one, unfortunately," Mr Evans said.

"It's been around for some time now, in honour of the firefighters.

"It's very good for exhibiting — one of the better ones because of its excellence in presentation. It has a very strong perfume."

But when asked which rose represents Valentine's Day best, Mr Evans pondered.

"That's a tricky one [but] I suppose most people prefer red, so probably Kardinal," he said.

"But Firefighter is up there as one of them."

Mr Hollis of the Rose Society of Australia said all the research that has been done "proves that the rose is the world's favourite flower".

However, the society has no objection to people sending wildflowers this Valentines, acknowledging that people express their affection in the way that suits them best.

"We support native growers that have been impacted by the bush fires. We are not anti any form of horticulture, or any form of flower," Mr Hollis said.

"From my point of view, if we lost the tradition of rose giving it will be another significant tradition that we've lost.

"Perhaps that is the way the world's going. But for me, Valentine's Day is always symbolic of the red rose."

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