The rose-growing industry in Texas began during the middle to late 1800s in Smith County near Tyler. In 1879 the first recorded sale of rose plants occurred. Large-scale commercial production started in the early 1900s, and in 1917 the first train carload was shipped. Droughts, freezes, and disease had destroyed the area's peach orchards, so the nurserymen were forced to turn to something else. The climate and sandy loams of Smith, Van Zandt, Gregg, Cherokee, Harrison, and Upshur counties proved excellent for this type of horticulture, and large-scale commercial rose growing centered there. In 1936 rose production amounted to approximately six million plants valued at $1 million; by 1945 the number had increased to between ten million and twenty million plants valued at $3.5 million. There were approximately 200 nurserymen, with 1,500 employees, growing roses commercially in 1945; Smith County produced 80 percent of the total crop. Tyler, nicknamed Rose Capital of the World, is home of the Texas Rose Festival every October, the peak of the blooming season.
Texas roses were shipped each year in refrigerated cars and by express, parcel post, motor freight, and air freight. The greater part of the Texas rose crop was consigned to northeastern markets in the United States. Over 300 varieties were grown in the East Texas area, including Radiance, Talisman, Étoile de Hollande, and President Hoover. The plagues of the rose-growing industry are primarily diseases such as root rot, canker, and black spot (see PLANT DISEASES). Around fifteen million plants were being shipped annually in the 1950s. The crop was valued at $3.5 million a year. Tyler alone shipped every year approximately 250 cars, each containing 25,000 plants. From each of the near twenty million rosebushes grown a year at least two dozen cut roses could be harvested. The nursery growers in 1950 also shipped some thirty million dozen cut roses by air, for an estimated additional annual revenue of $5 million. Additionally, rose-related products such as rose-petal jelly were made in Tyler. In the late 1950s almost 300 rose growers produced over twenty million plants. In addition to rose growing, the rose-processing industry developed during this time. With the use of cold storage and plastic for packaging, businesses in Northeast Texas processed both local plants and roses imported from Arizona and California. The processing method included wrapping roots in paper and using plastic wrappers and labels for shipment elsewhere. Rose processing was largely mechanized in the 1960s.
In the early 1970s more than fifteen million rosebushes continued to be shipped annually from Texas throughout the United States. By the 1990s the rose industry had diminished in Texas. Out-of-state competition, along with unpredictable weather and some lost crops during the 1980s, contributed to the decrease in production. In the early 1990s the industry centered almost entirely in Smith County around the Tyler area; some growth was conducted in Van Zandt County. Fewer than fifty rose growers produced approximately eight to ten million rosebushes annually on approximately 800 to 1,000 acres. Texas still produced from 16 to 20 percent of the United States rose crop. The rose-processing industry continued to flourish, with sixteen million plants being processed for mass-market sales throughout the country. Another facet of the industry was the forcing of bare-root field-grown plants in containers for shipment to garden centers. Tyler processors shipped approximately 2.5 million bare-root plants. In northeast Texas the total value of rose production and processing was estimated at $50 million annually. Many of the rose-growing businesses were still family owned.
A cottage industry centered around antique roses during the 1980s and 1990s. Antique roses are defined by the American Rose Society as varieties that were either introduced before 1867 or roses that exhibit certain characteristics including hardiness and disease-resistance. There was increasing interest in antique roses through individual nurseries and mail-order businesses. Much of the home industry was centered in Central and South Texas. The chief nursery was the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham.