Last week two dozen roses were put on board a special express plane from California and, under refrigerated conditions, wisked into the City of Alexandria for their star performance before the City Council. A new hybrid had been selected as the "City of Alexandria" rose and this was to be the council's first look.

But what council members didn't know at the time was that they were the wrong roses.

Understudy roses, called Candia roses, had to be substituted because the real City of Alexandria roses could not be forced into bloom in California.

The city's new rose was developed last year by J. Benjamin Williams of Silver Spring, a plant hybridist who breeds new varieties of roses. The process of getting roses from a new hybrid can take up to 18 months. About 2,000 City of Alexandria rose bushes are being grown in California and will be shipped to the city in the spring of 1989 for planting.

"Mr. Williams told us he could not force the real {City of Alexandria} roses to bloom out in California, because they are grown outside, so he had to ship the other {Candia} roses," said John Papp, vice president of the advertising firm of Papp, Walsh & Associates, which handled public relations for the rose's debut.

"Apparently that happens sometimes with roses, so we understood," Papp said. "We were happy to get the other {Candia} roses."

A rose apparently is still a rose by any name. Although Vice Mayor Patricia Ticer found out from Papp a day after the meeting that the roses they received were not the real McCoy, no one seemed to mind. Council members and about 200 people attending the meeting were thrilled that a new, one-of-a-kind rose had been created for the city.

The new rose has been officially registered with the American Rose Society in Shreveport, La., as the City of Alexandria rose. The society, which was formed in 1899, is the international registration organization for roses and abides by the code of the International Commission for the Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants, which is based in the Netherlands.

Carol Spiers, a spokeswoman for the American Rose Society, said there was already a "Lord Alexander" and an "Alexandra" rose, so the society recommended the name "City of Alexandria" to avoid confusion.

The cream-colored Candia roses with red tips are very similar to the new city rose.

The City of Alexandria rose also is "cream-colored and has dark brick-red tips," explained Ticer, who, along with a staff member from the city's Department of Recreation, helped pick the new rose from slides of unnamed hybrid roses last summer. They met with Williams and officials of the Alexandria Management Corp., which sponsored the rose project to commemorate an addition to the Old Colony Inn hotel, which they own.

The corporation paid $5,000 to Williams to complete the hybridization process for the new rose.

"We selected the rose from about 15 slides of new hybrid roses that Mr. Williams showed us," Ticer explained. "We originally considered a solid orange rose because it was a softer color, but we decided on the cream with brick-red tips because of the preponderance of brick throughout the city and we wanted the rose to stand out and pick up that brick color."

Ticer said the rose will be larger than the Candia roses presented to the council members last week. The City of Alexandria rose "is not grown in a hothouse, it's grown outdoors and it's a very hearty plant, which is one of the reasons we picked it," she said. The rose will bloom several times a year, Ticer said.

While the city has made no plans to purchase any of the plants, Ticer said the council members have discussed planting some of the rose bushes in Market Square at Alexandria's City Hall.

"I think it would be wonderful if these new rose bushes could be a gift that people could give to the city in honor of certain occasions or in memory of certain people and the city could put plaques by the bushes," Ticer said.