TOMBSTONE, The Lady Banksia Rose. The world’s largest rose tree. Thousands of blooms each spring. Yours for $1.6 million.
The Shady Lady — labeled by Guinness as the World’s Largest Rose Tree — is for sale.
A tree this big takes work, especially for an older couple. Burt and Dorothy Devere have reached a tough decision: sell the property that has always been in the family to someone who isn’t family.
“The problem is that the next generation of our family lives elsewhere. They all have careers and are nowhere near retirement,” Burt said.
The property includes the Rose Tree Museum, along with its artifacts, and the rose tree itself. The couple have taken care of the tree for 25 years in retirement and have “never worked so hard” to maintain it.
“The rose bush will be here. And we will be here. But we don’t do the rose tree justice anymore. There’s about 15 people in the world who are willing to buy it. It’s a real needle in the haystack,” Burt said.
The tree has been the center of their attention for a quarter century. The weddings, the birthday parties and the annual Rose Festival have all been under the wing of the Deveres. This decision was for the betterment of both the tree and Burt and Dorothy. The tree was bigger than them.
But it wasn’t always long branches, roses and parties.
The museum sells clippings of the tree for $15.
The story behind the once tree shrub is like Tom Brady coming off the bench to win the Super Bowl. Like a tall child gaining the recessive gene from his short parents. Like a homeless man cashing the jackpot.
It wasn’t supposed to grow like this.
At a glance from the street the tree is nowhere to be found. It’s surrounded by a light pink brick building with wooden floor steps. Anyone who hasn’t seen the tree has no clue it is even there. It’s the soft spot of Tombstone. The town of guns, beer and horses.
In the midst of the madness of fake gunfights and posing cowboys thrives a rose tree stronger than any bullet from a cowboy’s gun. The Lady Banksia Rose Bush, at the corner of Fourth and Toughnut streets, roots back to a time as old as Tombstone.
History shows the tree was planted in the spring of 1885 by a young bride by the name of Mary Gee from Scotland. At the time, the property was a boarding house. Amelia Adamson, the woman in charge, formed a bond with Gee. Gee had received a box of shrubs and rooted shoots of Lady Banksia Rose from Scotland. Both Gee and Adamson planted the tree on the patio and it has grown its branches to welcome Tombstone tourists for over a century.
However, it was The Lady of the Rose whose strength and courage let the tree be what it is today.
Alice and Cris Robertson moved to Tombstone in 1880. And in 1881, Ethel Robertson (The Lady of the Rose) was born. Upon the death of her mother and the murder of her father, Ethel was left to raise four siblings in her household. She was gifted with incredible, clear hand writing, which led her to be one of the first women to be employed by the Cochise County Courthouse as a record keeper.
In 1904, Ethel married Herbert Macia, a mining engineer with the Tombstone Consolidated Mining Company. Through the years she worked as a historian for the Arizona Children’s Home at the University of Arizona which she attended.
Ethel’s youngest daughter, Jeanne Macia, and her husband Burton Devere purchased the property in 1941, making the property and former boarding house their home. And in 1964, The Lady of the Rose passed. Ever since her death, the Devere family decided to make the former boarding house into a museum in her honor.
The Lady Banksia Rose Bush spans over 8,000 square feet.
Now, enter Burt and Dorothy Devere. To them, it isn’t just the largest rose tree in the world. It’s been a home to their family for generations. It’s the reason their family history is so rich. It’s because of the 8,000 square feet of branches that the family tree reaches so far. The rose tree isn’t just a bush that has been in their family for 132 years.
“It’s a member of the family,” Burt said.
Dorthy added, “It’s been a home to us for many years.”
For 132 years, it hasn’t stopped blossoming. The tree gives and never takes. It blesses and doesn’t not boast. Not by its white roses, scents and clippings, but by an odd indirect affect that provides like a monsoon rain in Arizona. All this by being the world’s largest rose bush.
Burt and Dorothy celebrate the tree with their annual Rose Festival. The softer side of Tombstone blossoms around Easter, every year. The money raised funds scholarships for the Tombstone Unified School District and other charities. The couple opens the museum for weddings and other events, including their friend’s father, who celebrated his 100th birthday with the tree.
“It’s been part of this community for so long. It is set in stone in Tombstone.”
What is the secret to its prolonged growth? Tombstone’s very own cesspool system. The tree’s roots during these years grew far enough into Tombstone’s cesspool system before the town built a modern sewage system.
“We never fertilized it until only a few years ago with some sludge from Tucson. But we really think that the roots reached far enough to get its fertilizer from the cesspool.”
Another secret to The Shady Lady, as Dorothy calls it, is the walls that surround it.
“It’s always been surrounded by buildings,” Burt said.
“It has always been protected from the weather and the wind. It doesn’t get as cold here. There was another rose bush across the street. The wind broke it in half.”
Jeremy Dolphin is the tree’s keeper. His No. 1 job is to keep the tree healthy. He takes care of it every day and prepares it for the blooming of the roses in the Rose Festival every spring.
“Water it, trim it, fertilize it,” he said.
“The number one rule is to not trim the tree when it blooms. If you do, you’ll shock it, it’ll die and I’ll get fired.”
The next person to keep the tree will have big shoes to fill. The tree that has produced 132 years of roses doesn’t plan to stop now. Even though it wasn’t supposed to end like this for the Devere family, the tree was never supposed to grow like this, either.
Jireh Lopez Jimenez is a reporter for the Arizona Sonoran News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at email@example.com