The Long and Short of It
By Dr. Satish Prabhu
(From Rose Exhibitors' Forum, Spring 2000)

In the last few years, as an active exhibitor at national conventions, I have seen somewhat longer stems in the hybrid tea sections and challenge classes, which have enhanced the beauty of the exhibits.

At the same time, a series of articles and short excerpts criticizing long stems have appeared in various newsletters around the country including some in American Rose. Some authors are merely unhappy about longer stems; others are angry and wish to take drastic actions to cure this disease among the exhibitors. The penalty proposed by some is severe to the extent of disqualification; to make sure these "looong-stemmed' roses do not win the National Challenge Classes.

Is there really a problem with stem lengths? As I see it, the judges would not have picked a challenge class entry as a winner if a majority of them had thought the stems were too long. Obviously, something drew their attention to that winning entry. (Remember, the national challenge classes are usually judged by three teams of three judges each by secret ballot.) Perhaps, it was the horticultural excellence - the freshness of the blooms, the color combination, the uniformity of size and form, outstanding grooming and presentation and last, but not the least, excellent stem and foliage. Perhaps, it was a combination of all of the above. If you discuss the process with experienced judges who judge a large number of national shows, they rarely have "close competition" in national challenge classes. Usually, there is a runaway winner, easily selected.

So why did the exhibitor show his roses with long stems, thereby risking a penalty for a deficiency in balance and proportion? Maybe he felt that the excellence of the stem and foliage of his specimens deserved to be shown off a little, or that the large size of the blooms justified it.

Some unhappiness over long stems may have arisen in the past when the challenge classes were staged on standard tables. Then, some not-too-tall judges had difficulty looking at blooms from the top to ascertain form of the bloom and the existence or lack of a pointed center. But the ARS has solved that problem by staging these challenge classes on tabletops on 18-inch risers. Are we now to urge the judges to kneel in front of the entries to make sure they conform to an uncertain stem length standard?

The "search and kill", "hunt and destroy" the "looong-stemmed" roses mania took a major turn for the worse when one of the judges at the Orlando National Convention "cautioned' all the judges to be aware of "those loong-stemmed roses", minutes before the judging started. A clerk at the show reported that one judge, who saw a 'looong-stemmed" 'Andrea Stelzer' stated: "I am going to penalize that rose and not give it a blue ribbon." This was from a distance, and long before the judge had a chance to look at the entire specimen in comparison to the other specimens of Andrea Stelzer that were present. What happened to the other 90 points for the specimen, including the 20 points for stem and foliage?

I have heard from reliable sources that some West Coast districts have the understanding that stem length should not be more than four to five times the height of the bud (center of the bloom). This formula fails to consider that some roses may be flatter in relation to their bud height. For example, 'Elina' with a 3-inch tall bud may open into an 8-inch diameter bloom. Conversely, a 'Cary Grant' or a similar rose with a 5-inch bud may open to a 5-inch wide flower as well. Also, if an entry for a challenge class of multiple blooms had some blooms that were 3-inches tall and some 4-inches tall, but all of them nearly 6-inches in diameter, then acceptable stem lengths would vary from 12 inches to 20 inches. This is clearly an unacceptable situation.

Despite this, or any other understanding, no objective standard of stem length for hybrid teas is set forth in the Guidelines for Judging Roses. In the section on "Stem and Foliage" it merely states that the stem should be "of proper length to complement the bloom". In addition, the section on "Balance and Proportion" adds that "it should not be too long nor too short' but goes on to state that when a bloom "is of such size that a very long stem and very large foliage actually compliment it, this specimen is said to have good balance and proportion". Finally, in the last paragraph, it emphasizes that the category of balance and proportion provides the area to penalize for deficiencies in the length of stems

Balance and proportion carry only 10 of the total 100 points. An extra-long stemmed beauty is obviously going to score extremely well in the areas of stem and foliage and may score very well in form, color and substance. So a long-stemmed rose can win even if it is fairly penalized for balance and proportion. The recent concern about long- stemmed roses appears to point to the need for "an objective standard" to determine whether a given entry is in proper balance and proportion or not. As it stands now, I cannot teach a novice exhibitor a formula to determine if an entry is within a "safety zone" for stem length. I do realize that there are other areas where a standard can't be easily established and therefore judging is very much an art. Nevertheless, stem length is something we can measure.

The dictionary defines the "length" as the distance from one point to the other. In this case, it might be from the tip of the vase to the top of the peduncle. To determine an appropriate length, the exhibitors, judges and Consulting Rosarians of the Carolina District decided to take up this challenge at the District Exhibitors' Workshop (considered by many as the mother of all workshops) held in Charlotte, NC, in June 1993. This workshop was conducted under the leadership of Dr. John Bender, Jack Wright, Dennis Bridges and District Director Bob Flint. Among the guest faculty were John Hefner and Slats Wathen. Other distinguished ex- hibitors, judges and CRs included Millie and Howard Walters, Ilse and Tom Estridge, Charlotte and Paul Blankenship, and Doug Whitt.

Ten teams were organized, each with a CR, an exhibitor, a judge and a clerk. They were given long- stemmed hybrid tea roses, a yard stick and tabulation papers. The roses were staged by each team at what was collectively agreed upon by each team as the correct and the best stem length for their specimen. They were then asked to demonstrate the length at which they would penalize a rose for having too long or too short a stem. The height of the buds (bloom centers), the diameter of the blooms and the stem lengths for each specimen were measured and recorded. The highest and the lowest reading for each category were discarded and the rest were averaged. The results were tabulated, intensely scrutinized and analyzed. The summary of the findings is reported below.

More than 90 percent of hybrid teas in our district have a bloom height of 3 1/2 inches and a diameter of 5 inches. The consensus of stem length for these blooms is 17.5 inches above the vase. This indicates a formula of either five times bloom height or three-and-one-half times diameter. In this case, the formulas for other sized blooms are:

A) Stem length = ((bloom height - 3.5) x 2) + 17.5"

B) Stem length = ((bloom diameter - 5) x 1.5) + 17.5"

The following are examples of the application of formula 'N':

1. Bloom height = 4": ((4-3.5) x 2) + 17.5 = 18.5"

2. Bloom height = 5": ((5-3.5) x 2) + 17.5 = 20.5"

3. Bloom height = 4.5": ((4.5-3.5) x 2) + 17.5 = 19.5"

Examples of formula "B" are-.

1. Bloom diameter = 6": ((6-5) x 1.5) + 17.5 = 19.0"

2. Bloom diameter = 7": ((7-5) x 1.5) + 17.5 = 20.5"

3. Bloom diameter = 8": ((8-5) x 1.5) + 17.5 = 22".

Based on these findings, two additional conclusions are suggested:

1. No justification is needed for stem lengths between 16 inches to 19 inches above the vase (10 percent on either side of 17.5 inches).

2. No penalty should result as long as the stem length falls within 10 percent of either formula.

Before the session concluded, the audience of 60 was asked to collectively determine the best stem length for a 3 1/2 inch bloom height specimen of 'Uncle Joe'. For starters, the specimen was staged with a ridiculously long stem. Then the specimen was gradually lowered into the vase. At a stem length of 19 inches, 10 percent of the audience said "Aye". At precisely 17.5 inches (though the measurement was unknown to the audience at the time), there was a resounding proclamation of "Aye' by 90 percent of the audience. So you see, we can come to an agreement or a consensus and the same can be measured. What's more, the approval fit our formulas precisely!

I strongly feel that a lot of hard work and thinking went into these formulas. They are very reasonable and most of us could live with it.

The ARS also has within its membership highly qualified engineers, physicists, mathematicians and statisticians who might come up with an improved, modified or even a simplified version. But we can, and we must, come up with a formula based on which you a judge could penalize a specimen for having too long a stem.

I can already hear the groans from kill-happy judges: "What! Must we carry a yardstick to every show we judge?" The answer is "No, just if you want to penalize an entry for having too long a stem."

To facilitate this solution, a patent for a 2-foot rose measuring stick is already in process. The stick is color-coded and marked for bud length on one side and diameter on the other side. One can merely hold it against a specimen and the color-coded markers will instantly tell whether the specimen falls within the acceptable range. I can have these made and turn over 100 percent of the profits to ARS or ARS can have these made and keep 100 percent of profits. I can foresee selling 1,000 of these to exhibitors, and 1,000 to judges, to make a neat sum of money for the Klima Center!