This bulk of this article was originally published on our flower farm blog, but we decided it would be great to adapt it and share again. Enjoy!
Picture it… Sicily, 1900. An olive-skinned woman sets sail for America—
Okay, I’m kidding. I’m only going to go a little “Sophia Petrillo” on you here. (If you don’t know what I’m alluding to, then you’ve got some Googling to do.)
Picture it… a beautiful Midwestern day in late June. Gentle breeze. Bright blue sky with puffy white clouds. You’re riding on the back of an ATV with your spouse, checking out the new farm that you’ll be signing for in a few weeks.
Suddenly, amongst the lush, green Summer growth of the forest, you catch a flash of pink, so out of place that you have to stop. You have to see what it is.
Scrambling through honeysuckle and wild blackberry briars, you finally come upon a mass of canes and thorns that are reaching, rambling, over fallen logs and up towards the sunlight beaming through a small break in the forest canopy.
Could it be?
Yes, it could.
A petite pink rose, growing wild.
Red is the Rose that in Yonder Garden Grows
It’s no secret that the rose is probably one of the most beloved flowers in the world. Countless words have been written about this flower over a vast period of recorded time. Roses have been the center of poems, horticultural journals, legends, religion, mythology, and culture in general.
Did you know that roses are only native to the northern hemisphere?
In fact, most of the roses we know today are descended from ancestral roses that grew wild in China, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North America. We often think of roses in the color of red, but many of the original species were white, cream, or pink with a single layer of petals. They bloomed once and then were done blooming for the season, unlike the repeat-bloomers we know and love now.
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How Wild Roses Became Tamed
Through many years of hybridization and cultivation, most roses that are sold commercially today have many petals and are repeat bloomers (meaning that they bloom multiple times throughout a season).
Also, some species are more fragrant than others. As roses were bred for desired physical characteristics, oftentimes their lovely scents fell by the wayside.
Today, it seems that a lot of breeders are working hard to develop varieties that are disease resistant, beautiful, AND fragrant. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s probably a rose out there for you.
Many varieties are plant patented, which means that it is illegal to propagate specific varieties unless you have a license and permission to do so from the breeder. Almost any potted rose you will find in a big box store, online garden shop, or even local nursery is likely patented.
For most gardeners and landscapers, this isn’t a big deal, but I’ll explain more later about why you might want to find a variety you can propagate from if roses are of interest to you in your garden. You can also click here to skip ahead.
It would take several articles to only slightly scratch the surface of the topic of roses. If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to some of the many garden varieties of roses and their origins, you can check out this book (I love my copy!): The Ultimate Rose Book by Stirling Macoboy.
Before becoming interested in plant identification, I never thought about roses as wildflowers. The main thing I knew about roses was that most people liked to plant Knockout® Roses, which are a trademarked brand of roses that are produced commercially.
But, there is a whole wide world of wild roses right here in North America!
And no, I’m not talking about the non-native, invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Multiflora rose is native to Japan and was introduced to the United States in the late 1700s. The government actually promoted the use and distribution of this rose in the 1940s to 1960s for erosion control and as a “natural fence”.
Now, we are left with a major problem. Birds like to eat multiflora rose hips (which are essentially fruit that contains seeds) that are produced in the Fall. They then spread the seeds via their droppings.
For reference, one multiflora rose plant can produce 40 to 50 panicles, each panicle can produce an average of 50 hips, and each hip usually has 7 seeds. That’s 14,000 to 17,500 seeds per plant. A small problem can become a big problem fast.
Between honeysuckle and multiflora rose, a person can have a difficult time keeping their land and woods cleared. Just ask our family who have been fighting these two invasive species as they try to reclaim some old cattle pastures!
American Wild Roses
Chances are in the Midwest, if you’re going to come across a wild rose, you’ll likely be encountering multiflora rose. Multiflora rose produces small white flowers in clusters around June.
Other wild roses you may encounter (which are native) will likely be pink.
The Carolina or pasture rose (Rosa carolina), the Virginian rose (Rosa virginiana or lucida), the thornless to near-thornless smooth rose (Rosa blanda), and the climbing/trailing 3-leaved prairie rose (Rosa setigera or rubifolia) are four of the five roses you are most likely to encounter in the wild that are native to North America.
The prairie rose, R. setigera, is the quaint pink bloom I came across on that beautiful day in June that I mentioned in the beginning of this article. I also came back the this year (2022) in June to see it bloom once again.
What’s different about the prairie rose is that the leaflets are mostly arranged in threes, rather than the typical five to seven leaflets. The rose is considered climbing or trailing. In some areas the canes were a few feet taller than my head and I’m 5’7″. In other areas, the canes trailed along the ground. Where the canes touched the ground, little rootlets were forming, like the way strawberry runners form new plants.
I was disappointed that this rose has no scent to speak of. I have often heard that some of the wild roses were heavy in scent and that over time fragrance has accidentally been bred out of the rose varieties. I was assuming this one would be fragrant, but alas it was not.
While traveling in rural eastern Missouri this past year, we stumbled upon another pink wild rose growing rampant along the roadsides. If I had to guess, this one was likely the pasture rose (R. carolina). I’m sure the local farmers hate it growing along their fencelines, but I quite enjoyed the beautiful pink blooms as we were driving along.
Also an American native, the marsh rose (Rosa palustris; not pictured) may be found in moist, boggy ground of eastern North America. Rosa pisocarpa (translated as “pea-fruited rose”; also not pictured) is a wild, prickle-free shrub rose that hails from northwestern North America. Both of these roses have pink blooms.
According to The Rose by Jennifer Potter, a few North American rose varieties made the voyage to Europe and were planted in European gardens by the early to mid-1600s. In fact, Rosa virginiana was recorded in the renowned gardener John Tradescant the elder’s garden in 1634.
There are other wild American roses, but they appear less common in nature or literature. Some roses that have been adopted as native to America are actually native to other countries/continents.
An example of this, recorded in Stirling Macoboy’s The Ultimate Rose Book, would be the Cherokee rose (R. laevigata). The Cherokee rose is native to China, although it is the state flower of Georgia, USA. This is due to records from 1803 that place it growing wild in lands of the Cherokee.
Herbal and Culinary Uses for Roses
In the Fall, of the same year I discovered my prairie rose patch, I came back at dusk one evening and collected rose hips! I used them in a few dried wreaths, and they were beautiful.
The rose hip is the “fruit” of the rose, although it is technically not a true fruit (it’s called a pseudo-fruit). Rose hip outer flesh is usually a shade of red to orange. Inside the flesh, called the hypanthium, are the seeds. These seeds are technically the fruit. Botanically, the seeds are called achenes.
Rose hips are often foraged to make rose hip jelly and teas. Hips are extremely high in vitamin C, as well as flavonoids and pectin, but through the cooking process much of the vitamin C content is destroyed.
Hairs on the outside of the seeds usually prevent people from eating the seeds directly, but rosehip seed oil can be made by pressing the seeds with a machine. This oil is said to help with acne, inflammation, and overall skin health and hydration.
Note: You are NOT making your own rosehip seed oil when you collect the hips, put them in a carrier oil for several weeks, and strain it off. Many blog posts and videos out there will have you believing you can make your own rosehip seed oil by this process. Rosehip seed oil is pressed from the seeds only, not the entire hip. It takes many, many seeds to produce a small amount of true rosehip seed oil. Click here to view a great video explaining the difference by Vivienne Campbell of The Herbal Hub.
Rose hip tea is said to help coat mucous membranes and to soothe sore throats. It also can be used to treat digestive issues and may have a mild laxative effect, according to the Northwest School for Botanical Studies. Northwestern coastal tribes of Native Americans were said to have collected hips and mashed the outer flesh to be fed to babies with intestinal issues.
For beautiful botanical illustrations of roses and their hips, check out this blog that I stumbled upon by natural history illustrator, Lizzie Harper. You can click here to view her illustrations.
Best Rose Varieties for Hips
If you’re wanting to really get serious about making rose hip jelly or tea, then you’ll likely need more than just a handful of hips. According to DuJardin Learning Center, you’ll need at least 1 to 2 lbs of rose hips to produce 4 cups of rosehip juice to make jelly. That’s a lot of hips!
However, you can decide to add some rose varieties known for producing large hips to your very own backyard! Just make sure to not deadhead if you’re looking to harvest hips, as the flower will need to be pollinated and mature enough to develop a hip in the Fall.
Some of the best species/varieties to plant if you’re looking to produce your own hips are:
- Rosa rugosa – ‘Scabrosa’, ‘Alba’, ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’
- Rosa spinosissima
- Rosa multiflora ‘Frances E Lester’
- Rosa virginiana
- Rosa canina
- Rosa moyesii
We ordered a rugosa rose named ‘Scabrosa’ just this past year. The plant is still really small (and extremely thorny), but we are excited to see how it bears in the future!
If you’re looking to have a garden full of rose hips for minimal cost, try propagating your own rose bushes! Of course, you must make sure you are not propagating roses that are still under plant patent. Not only would this be a fun garden project, but your wallet may thank you later, too.
However, if you’re impatient, like many gardeners, several well-known hip producing varieties are cheaper. Buying bareroot roses may be the way to go.
To conclude, I hope you’ve learned something new today about roses! This article has only scratched the surface of the world of roses, both wild and modern. I bet you’ll find a few of the resources I mentioned useful if you plan to go down a research rabbithole.
Also, if you’re interested in plant identification, one of my favorite books is the Peterson Field Guide for Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America. You can pick up your own copy by clicking here. Some of the scientific names are out-of-date, but the pictures are excellent, and they can help you get in the right vicinity when identifying plants.
A few more rose tidbits…
A few of the resources I’ve mentioned in this article were recommended by the founder of a cut rose farm called Grace Rose Farm. I learned about the origins of this farm on a podcast awhile back, and her story is really neat! She also ships rose bouquets! (By clicking on the icon below, we may receive a small commission if you make a purchase from Grace Rose Farm. Thanks for the support!)
I would also like to mention that I had great luck with purchasing from Heirloom Roses this year (heirloomroses.com). All the varieties I ordered are doing well! Check out some of their David Austin roses, and sign up for their email list to get updated on sales. (BluffBottom.com is not an affiliate of Heirloom Roses. We just really enjoyed our shopping experience.)
Thanks for reading this article on roses, both wild and domesticate!
If you liked what you read, please share or comment on this article. What varieties do you grow in your garden that you’re absolutely in love with? Have you ever foraged for rose hips?
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Haynes, Cynthia. “Roses have hips too!” Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Department of Horticulture. <https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2010/2-3/rosehips.html>
J. W. Amrine, Jr. in Driesche, F.V.; Blossey, B.; Hoodle, M.; Lyon, S.; Reardon, R. Biological Control of Invasive Plants in the Eastern United States. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team. Morgantown, West Virginia. FHTET-2002-04. August 2002. 413 p. <https://wiki.bugwood.org/Archive:BCIPEUS/Rosa_multiflora>
Macoboy, Stirling. The Ultimate Rose Book. New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1993.
Potter, Jennifer. The Rose. London, Callisto and Atlantic Books, 2010.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Rosa Carolina Corymbosa; Rosier des despres” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1817 – 1824. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-1417-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Rosa Lucida; Rosier a feuilles luisantes” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1817 – 1824. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-1406-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Rosa Rubifolia; Rosier des Prairies” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1817 – 1824. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-1490-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Rosa blanda” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1799. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-94f7-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99