The Phi Beta Rose

By Susan Detorre (Pi Alpha Sigma)

The official Phi Beta rose is the red, pink hued, American Beauty, a hybrid perpetual rose, bred in France in 1875 and said to have been imported to America by George Bancroft in 1886. The American Beauty was the best-selling rose up until 1920 due to its long stems, strong fragrance, and large blooms. When the founders of Phi Beta named the American Beauty the official flower of Phi Beta, they were quite innovative because camellias and carnations were the most popular flower in the 19th century and the American Beauty rose cost $3.75 each in New York City, nearly a full day’s wages for some workers. No wonder it was nicknamed the “Million Dollar Rose”. It quickly became part of the American culture and, since it was released only ten years after the U.S. Centennial of 1876, buying this rose was seen as an act of patriotism. The American Beauty is the official flower of Washington, D.C., is commemorated in the Joseph Lamb ragtime composition, “American Beauty Rag” and Grateful Dead album, American Beauty. Florence Ziegfeld used its name to praise the ladies who danced in his 1910 Follies as “long stemmed American Beauties.” After 1920, the American Beauty was replaced by hybrid tea roses but even today, it is still grown in specific nurseries. The presentation of a rose in the name of Phi Beta to honor its members and patrons for artistic excellence has been a wonderful and long-standing tradition filled with memories, tears, love, art, beauty, success and devotion of its members. May the tradition be as perpetual as the passion for the performing arts which this rose honors.

Phi Beta’s Artist patron, Helen Hayes had a yellow hybrid tea rose named after her. It had bits of red and pink, suggesting greasepaint and it became as popular as this first lady of the theatre. Phi Beta National Honorary patron, Bob Hope, also had a cherry red rose named after him.