Rose Garden at Delano Park

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Over the 123 years of Delano Park's existence, it has weathered many obstacles including a devastating outbreak of yellow fever, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and several debilitating recessions.  Over the same period the park has withstood the loss of its beautiful American elms, its mighty American chestnuts, and its elegant sycamores, all due to fungal infections whish spread like wildfire throughout the nation.

However, the greatest test over the last ten years for Friends of Delano Park occurred in 2010 with the ravaging attack of the lethal Rose Rosette virus in the historic Rose Garden.  450 knockout roses which have bloomed so beautifully since 2006 and have been such a joy to our community have been mortally afflicted by this disease described as the "AIDS" of roses.

In the summer of 2009, volunteers noticed an aberrant, strange growth on some of the double knockout roses.  The garden's trusted friend, Kevin Bryant, inspected the roses and thought the distorted growth might be damage from herbicide spraying of Roundup.  In early April 2010, the roses looked very healthy at first but quickly began to exhibit the distorted, floriferous habit which we had noticed the previous summer.  Kevin Bryant returned to evaluate and first spoke the word "virus." 

Laura Jo Rogers of Decatur Parks and Recreation confirmed Kevin's suspicions; she, too, believed the "witches broom" appearance was due to the virus Rose Rosette and that the roses would have to be removed and destroyed.  In May, Kevin Bryant injected all 450 roses with a special bacteria with the goal of fighting the mite vector which spreads the virus.  He thought that we could possibly "manage" the disease and lessen its impact without rose removal.  The roses looked spectacular but the disease progressed.

In June, rose cuttings were taken to Dr. Jim Jacobi, plant pathologist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension in Birmingham.  At that time, only 70 double knockouts were visibly diseased.  Dr. Jacobi cautiously advised us not to remove the plants, but to prune out the infected stems to determine if Roundup was the culprit.  Meanwhile, Paul Floyd, head of maintenance for Parks and Recreation, had been doing extensive research on Rose Rosette virus.  The parks department began an intensive spraying program with the goal of eradicating the small mite which carries the virus from plant to plant thereby halting the spread of the disease.

Dr. Jacobi made several visits to the Rose Garden, and by August the number of infected roses had climbed to 200.  The decision was made to remove and destroy the roses exhibiting the disease.  The hope was to save the many remaining healthy roses.  We desperately hoped that the disease had been topped.

On November 4, Dr. Jacobi returned to north Alabama because of reports in Madison and Huntsville of knockout roses exhibiting the same "witches broom" as in Delano Park.  Delano Park was the last stop on Dr. Jacobi's itinerary where he sadly witnessed the spread of the virus throughout the previously healthy plants.  In Dr. Jacobi's opinion, every rose would have to be removed and destroyed along with the surrounding soil.  He advised us to proceed with caution in replanting roses.  We should definitely not plant knockout roses.  In the weeks and months following reports of the virus came from Virginia and Tennessee.

There is always great danger in planting a monoculture of any one plant.  Because everyone thought that the knockout was the perfect low maintenance rose, it was planted in abundance all over the country and chosen for our Rose Garden.  With no test for the virus and no known cure, this is definitely unknown territory even for the experts.

(from Conservator, the Delano Park Conservancy newsletter, volume 17) 


For more information or to receive the Conservator newsletter contact:
The Community Foundation of Greater Decatur
Friends of Delano Park
P. O. Box 742
Decatur, Alabama 35602
The Delano Park Conservancy is a non-profit organization
qualified under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Donations should be made to Delano Park Conservancy. 
Donations are deductible to the extent provided by law.

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