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A rosebush, which hasn't bloomed in decades, adds color to a dim chapter in history

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Colorado, a rosebush no one's seen bloom for 80 years has budded. It's a splash of color in an otherwise dim chapter of American history. From Colorado Public Radio, Ryan Warner reports.

RYAN WARNER, BYLINE: This rosebush - really more of a bramble - has clung to life at Camp Amache, where the U.S. government incarcerated more than 10,000 Japanese Americans in World War II. It's a remote, hardscrabble place, and today, mostly foundations remain. But in 2012, an archaeological expedition turned up a sign of life.

CARLENE TANIGOSHI TINKER: How can we be traipsing around in this godforsaken area and then, all of a sudden, they come across these roses?

WARNER: Eighty-two-year-old Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker is a survivor of Amache - officially, the Grenada Relocation Center. She was 3 when she and her parents were forced from their home in California. For the last decade or so, she's returned to Amache to help unearth its history and her own with the help of archaeologist Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver.

BONNIE CLARK: Every time I've been at Amache, I have gone to check on the roses, especially when we've had a lot of rain, because I thought, well, maybe - I mean, they are hardy. They are living. But I have never seen them bloom.

WARNER: Clark's theory is that the incarcerated Amacheans planted the roses. Many were gardeners, she says. And in hopes of learning more and finally seeing a bloom, Clark invited the Denver Botanic Gardens to take clippings. Horticulturist Mike Bone has been babying them ever since in a massive greenhouse.

We are standing in front of a bit of a mystery, aren't we?

MIKE BONE: It is. This is a rose that we've been working on that we're not sure what color it is, what the parents are.

WARNER: The cuttings are thriving, and two were sent to Carleen Tanigoshi Tinker in Fresno, Calif., where she has been babying them as well.

TANIGOSHI TINKER: I knew, first of all, of their historic importance and, secondly, what a responsibility I had. And God, what if they died, you know? (Laughter) So it was very precious and very significant because I knew that they were representative of people who had been there, who had brought them, had propagated them. And gosh, they were showing survivorship just like we were.

WARNER: The thought was that Tanigoshi Tinker's clippings or the ones at the botanic gardens would blossom first by midsummer. But when Bonnie Clark visited Amache recently, a surprise was in store.

CLARK: Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Right?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Is there a bloom?

(LAUGHTER, CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's what a little rain will do for you.

WARNER: The original plant, pummeled for so long by the elements, produced a bud. This happened the same year Amache became a national historic site, the same month Americans celebrate Asian heritage and the same day as an annual pilgrimage to the camp. Again, archaeologist Bonnie Clark.

CLARK: We literally drove from the cemetery at the end of the ceremony up the road to the Amache roses. We looked down, and somebody said, is that a bud? And there is a little teeny, tiny, delicate pink bud on that Amache rose for the first time anyone in 80 years that we know of has seen it.

WARNER: Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker calls it a miracle.

TANIGOSHI TINKER: These witness roses are saying, welcome home, pilgrims. So this year captures a whole bit of history.

WARNER: And now she waits for the Amache roses in her own backyard to bloom.

For NPR News, I'm Ryan Warner in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Warner