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The Native Roses of North America
The Native Roses of North America
Published by hazelnut
Default The Native Roses of North America

Part I.


by hazelnut

Native species roses normally bloom in late spring for only about two weeks out of the year. Their blooms are small, single, and nearly all of them are pink. They are not known for their blooms, but rather for their value as hard working shrubs in natural habitats and wild gardens. Their flowers provide full spectrum pollen for bees. Their fruits (hips) in fall and winter provide nutrients for countless species of birds. Their low, sometimes thorny, branches provide nesting places for birds and shelter for small mammals from predators. Their fruits or hips also provide important antioxidants for humans. Native roses are important components of permaculture food forests and habitat restoration projects.Roses recommended for winter berries and nests in Wisconsin include R. palustris, 'Swamp rose', ,'R. carolina, 'Pasture Rose', and R. blanda, 'Meadow Rose'. R. arkansana , 'Prairie Wild Rose', provides berries for 38 different species of birds [1]

In the landscape native roses can form low hedges, ground covers, or be featured as specimen plants, but their main place is in the food or wild garden.

A clear list of species roses native to North America was not to be found so what I have attempted here is to compile such a list. The difficulty is, first, that "wild" roses and "native" roses are not the same. Many wild roses are in fact naturalized European or Asian roses that have escaped and proliferated in wild situations - often at the expense of native species. A second difficulty in identifying native species is the uneven use of scientific terminology. Rose terms may or not correspond to an actual genetic species. This problem is undergoing a revolution at the present time as terminology is made to conform with the outcome of on-going genetic studies.

In the past the classification of roses was based on observable characteristics.
Recently genetic studies have permitted the development of taxonomic classes based upon the actual genetic structure of the roses themselves.

One important effort to deal with the problem of rose nomenclature is Barbara Ertter's study of Native California Roses. [2] Barbara Ertter places the nine roses that are native to California into three distinct taxonomic groups. The first group belongs to the section Cinnamomeae within the genus Rosa. This group includes Rosa californica, Rosa nutkana var. nutkana, Rosa pisocarpa, and Rosa woodsii.

The second taxonomic group within the Section Gymnocarpae includes four roses: Rosa gymnocarpa, Rosa bridgesii, Rosa spithamea, and Rosa pinetorum. These species are wood and ground roses that are short growing and rhizomatous. All of these are limited to California and southern Oregon.

Within the third taxonomic classification, the Subgroup Hesperhodos, only Rosa minutifolia is a native California rose.

Joly and Bruneau's [3] study focused on the native roses occurring east of the Rocky Mountains. All seven species were assigned to the taxonomic Section Cinnamomeae. Joly and Bruneau found four diploid species (the simplest genetic pattern containing one set of chromosomes from each parent) and three derivative polyploid secies within the Rosa Section Cinnamomeae. The diploid group includes Rosa blanda -R. woodsii, which they conclude constitute a single species, Rosa foliolosa, Rosa nitida, and Rosa palustris. The three species within the polyploid group were Rosa arkansana (derived from Rosa blanda-woodsii), Rosa carolina, which may be a hybrid of Rosa blanda and Rosa palustris, and Rosa virginiana, which was derived from Rosa palustris.

As a result of genetic studies many of the original estimate of some 20 to 40 native species have now been combined into about 16 or fewer species falling within 3 subsections of the genus Rosa.

The Native Roses of North America

This is a list of native rose species indigenous to North America. Links in this section are to the databases at: Help Me Find (HMF), United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. (USDA NRCS), The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWFC) and others as specified. (Please see Keys to Databases in the REFERENCES section below.) I have included as many native species names as I could find, but please keep in mind that some of these names may not merit separate generic status as the on-going genetic studies of the genus Rosa continues.

Rosa acicularis. (HMF) 'Prickly Rose', 'Circumpolar Rose' is a native of North America and the circumpolar region. It extends down the Rocky Mountains as far south as Colorado and New Mexico. (USDA distribution map ) It grows between 3 ft and 7 ft. high. It has a deep pink single flower and is once blooming in late spring or early summer. It is endangered in several states.

According to this promotional statement, Rosa acicularis , 'Prickly Rose" is the only rose native to Alaska [4]. Actually Rosa nutkana var. nutkana also extends up the west coast into Alaska. Rosa woodsii var. woodsii is also native to Alaska according to the USDA distribution map for that species.

The ethnobotanical listings by the University of Michigan for Rosa acicularis describe the native American uses including medicinal uses for cough, sore eyes, difficult birth, witchcraft, bee stings as well as as a food including juice, tea, jelly, jam, and marmalade. [5]

Rosa arkansana. (HMF) 'Prairie Rose', grows on dry hills and prairies. It is native to 21 states and Canada in Zone 4 and higher and it is threatened and endangered in the State of Ohio. (USDA) Flowers are single, range from pale pink to red. Rosa arkansana var. suffulta is a low growing (6 to 18 inches) spreding prickly shrub. It is native to Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and New York. (LBJWFC)

Rosa blanda, (HMF) 'Smooth Rose' is a nearly thornless shrub between 2 ft and 5 ft tall. It is native to 21 states and Canada. (USDA). Rosa blanda 'Traverse' is a commercially available cultivar from northern Michigan [7] Rosa blanda is threatened or endanged in Maine, Maryland, and Ohio. Rosa blanda is also listed in the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center databank. (LBJWFC)

Rosa bridgesii. (HMF) 'Pigmy Rose' is native to the southern Sierra Nevada to the southern Cascades. It is a low growing rose with rhizomatous roots. Barbara Ertter (NCR) found that Rosa yainacensis is not a distinct species from Rosa bridgesii.

Figure 1
Rosa Carolina

The Native Roses of North America-rosa-carolina.-usda..jpg

Rosa Californica. (HMF)' California Wild Rose' occurs west of the Sierra Nevada forming thickets along streams and in moist valley bottoms. The plants grow to 7 ft with 1 1/2 inch pink blooms from May to November. (NCR)
Rosa Carolina is indigenous to the eastern United States and Canada but it occurs as far west as Texas in Zones 4 through 8. The shrub grows from 3 to 6 ft high with 2 inch pink blossoms appearing once annually in spring or summer. The hips appear in fall-winter. The native distribution of Rosa carolina is shown on this USDA map (USDA NRCS ).

Rosa foliolosa (HMF) 'White Prairie Rose' is described by the HMF reference American Rose Annual 1921, "Our Native Roses" by Chas. E. F. Gersdorff. as a low shrub at 1 1/2 ft, with 1 1/2 inch pink blooms in may and June. "A handsome dwarf shrub with graceful foliage." It is indigenous to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Walter Lewis [18] notes the prevalance of white coloured petals over light pinks or rose pink in his description of the species.

Rosa gymnocarpa. (HMF) 'Dwarf rose', 'Little Woods Rose', grows only 20 to 40 inches in height. It is native to several western states: California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Western Canada.
Rosa manca , 'Mancos Rose', (USDA) is native to new New Mexico and Utah. It is 12 to 24 inches in height and is well armed with thorns. It is a subspecies of Rosa woodsii occurring in the Southern Rocky Mountains between 7700 ft and 10,000 ft.

Rosa minutifolia. (NCR) 'Ensenada Rose', is limited in distribution to the west coast of Baja California except for a small population in San Diego County in the United States.

Rosa nitida. (HMF) 'Shining Rose' is native to the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada Zone 4 and higher. (USDA map) It has a medium pink single bloom in late spring or early summer with excellent fall color and cinnamon red canes. The shrub is about 3 ft high and 3 ft wide. Rosa nitida. (Connecticut Botanical Society). This description emphasizes the 'prickles' that characterize 'Shining Rose'.

Rosa nutkana (USDA Plants) prefers full sun and neutral to acid soils.
The flowers are single with 4 to 8 petals, pink to lilac in color. The shrub grows to 6 - 10 ft and is native to the western states. There are 4 varieties, possibly more, each of which has a slightly different distribution. Rosa nutkana var. nutkana has the widest distrubution extending northward along the west coast into Alaska. According to the University of Michigan Ethnobotany database [5], native Americans used various preparations of Rosa nutkana to ease childbirth, in a wash to strengthen babies, as a poultice for bee stings, with skunk oil for syphilitic sores, as well as other general uses.

Rosa palustris. (Connecticut Botanical Society). 'Swamp Rose' grows from 2 - 7 ft tall with 2 inch pink flowers blooming from June to July. This is the USDA native distribution map Rosa palustris. It is native to the entire eastern United States and eastern Canada.

Rosa pendulina. (HMF) 'Alpine Rose', 'Mountain Rose'. This is a species rose that was grown by Thomas Jefferson. According to HMF sources, it is indigenous to both the European alps and to North America, but the USDA NCRS does not list it as a native plant. Consequently, its native status could not be verified. Rosa pendulina has been cultivated in Europe since the 1600s.

Rosa pinetorum is native to the central California Monterey pine forests in coastal areas. It grows to 36 inches. It is an endangered species. (NCR)

Rosa pisocarpa. (LBJWFC ) Rosa pisocarpa, the 'Cluster Rose' (NCR) is indigenous to the west coast of Northern California northward to British Columbia.

Figure 2
Rosa setigera

The Native Roses of North America-rosa-setigera-mixhx-2.marcus-joseph-.-lbjwc.jpg

Rosa setigera. (Illinois Wildflowers) 'Prairie Rose' (synstylae), 'Climbing Rose',
'Illinois Rose'. [19] 'Climbing rose', is native to the eastern and southern United States. It occurs in 28 states and Canada. This is the USDA native distribution map of Rosa setigera.

Rosa spithamea. (NCR) 'Ground Rose'. This species is native to California and Oregon. It is threatened and endangered.

Rosa stellata. (LBJWFC) 'Desert Rose'. Rosa stellata is native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. It is a short shrub, 2 ft tall with velvety deciduous leaves. The large pink 2 1/2 inch flowers bloom from June through September. It is threatened and endangered. 
Rosa virginiana (HMF)is native to the eastern United States and eastern Canada. It occurs along the edges of salt marshes, along roadsides and in pastures. It tolerates clay and prefers a moist situation. It is an outstanding ornamental shrub. According to the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, (USDA NRCS) its distribution is from Alabama west to Arkansas and north to Newfoundland westward to Onatrio (Zone 5). The 2 inch diameter single pink blooms appear once annually in late spring or early summer. The shrub grows to about 7 ft. There is a double form Rosa virginiana var. plena. plants.usda.gov.
Rosa woodsii. (See Figure 9). 'Woods Rose' is native to the Canada, Alaska, and the entire United States except for the Southeast. This is the USDA native distribution map for Rosa woodsii.

Figure 3
Rosa woodsii

The Native Roses of North America-rosa-woodsii-usda.jpg

Rosa yainacensis, 'The Cascade Rose' is native to California and Oregon. Rosa yainacensis = Rosa bridgesii [NCR]
By hazelnut on 09-05-2009, 03:27 PM
Default The Native Roses of North America

Part II


Very rarely are native roses offered for sale as plants. One supplier is Wallace W. Hansen's Northwest Native Plants.

Native roses do not transplant readily, so it is not wise to dig up native roses from the wild. The rose is not likely to live under these circumstances, and you could be destroying the last of a rare or endangered species.

You could try growing the rose from a small cutting, if you can't find the plant commercially, but most varieties propagate readily from seed. The seeds are cold stratified, or wintersown. It may take up to two years to raise the seedling to a flowering plant so patience is required. Here is one method suggested by Albert Ford, editor, of the Maryland Rose Society newsletter. He places the seeds in film cannisters and refrigerates them for the required time, before planting in trays.
CNR. California Native Roses. Barbara Ertter.
The Connecticut Botanical Society. ct-botanical-society.org.
HMF. Help Me Find My Rose
LBJWFC. Native Plant Database. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. The university of Texas at Austin.
USDA. NRCS. United States Department of Agriculture. National Resource Conservation Service. Plant Database. #HYPERLINK "http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ROSA5"# HYPERLINK "http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ROSA5"Plants.usda.gov ROSA 5
[1] Wild Ones. Wisconsin's Best Native Plants for Attracting Birds. for-wild.org
[2] Alaska promotional statement. (Rosa acicularis). http://www.alaska-in-pictures.com/prickly-rose-flowers-anchorage-alaska-8861-pictures.htm
[3] Barbara Ertter. 2001. Native California Roses. Prepared for the Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. ucjeps.berkeley.edu
[4] Joly, Simon and Ann Bruneau. 2007. Delimiting Species boundaries in Rosa Sect. Cinnamomeae (Rosaceae) in eastern North America. Systematic Botany. Vol 32, No. 4, Oct. 2007. Published by American Society of Plant Taxonomists. ingentaconnect.com.
[5] The University of Michigan Ethnobotany database. http://herb.umd.umich.edu/
[6] H. Lewis. 1958 (Printed 1959) The Southwestern Naturalist 3:145-153. A Monograph of the Genus Rosa In North America. II. R. Foliolosa.
[7] Rosa blanda 'Traverse' is commercially available from the Oikos Tree Company.
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By hazelnut on 09-06-2009, 12:37 PM
Default The Native Roses of North America

Part III


According to Dr. Weil, specialist in alternative medicine, rose hips contain large amounts of vitamin C, and also vitamins A, B-3, D, E, flavinoids, bioflavinoids, citric acid, fructose, malic acid, tannins and zinc. In traditional medicine rose hips were used for treating diarrhea and infections, especially bladder infections.
This is Dr. Weil's own recipe for rose hip tea A Preferred Source of Vitamin C?
Dr Weil's recipe for rose hip tea:
"To make rose-hip tea, wash the hips well, chop them up, cover them with cold water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Then, strain the tea and sweeten it if you like. "

Rose hips not only provide important nutrients for birds during the winter when there are few other sources of food, but they may have saved a nation. During World War II in England children were bused out to the hedgerows in the country to collect rose hips. According to my British friend, Kathy Bird, England is an island nation and during the German blockade we had nothing, she said. There were no oranges or any fruits that are normally imported from Europe and Spain, so we had to depend on what was available in our own country. The children were paid a small sum for the hips they collected. It was important that they knew they were making a contribution to the survival of the country. The hips were taken to the chemist in town, where they were made into syrup. Everybody used the syrup to keep them healthy.

Figure 4
Rosa carolina
. Rose Hips.

The Native Roses of North America-rose-hips.-rosa-carolina.jpg

Here is a collection of rose hip and rose petal recipes from sources on the internet.


Lets begin with a recipe for rose beads made from rose petals. This recipe is from Native Alaskan Carol Eads. Used with permission. Thanks, Carol.

You need to pull the petals from a good bunch of roses...make sure that they are not moldy...add then to a large pot and cover them with a equal mixture of rose water (obtained easily these days in most markets or try Asian or Indian market)...simmer them for several hours...add more rose water and simmer again until you get a black mush...take mixture and roll beads making sure to make them larger than the size you want as they will shrink by half and inserting a pin or string in each to create a hole. Allow them to dry thoroughly before using (you can speed drying by placing them in the oven at 200 degrees for several hours).
Here is a group of rose hip recipes from Gail Butler's "Gather Rose Hips for Health".

Rose Hip Recipes :
Rose Hip Tea
Rose Hip Syrup
Swedish Rose Hip Soup
Rose Hip Wine

Here is ethnobotantist, Kat Morgenstern's rose hip syrup recipe.
Sacred Earth - Foraging: Making Rosehip Syrup
Making rose hip syrup

Rose hips are used in ayurveda medicine. Here are ten examples.
10 Extraordinary Medicinal Uses for Rose Tea | HealthMad

A variety of uses for rose hips can be found here:
Cooking with Rose Hips - Rose Hips Recipes
How to Dry Rose Hips
Kodiak Rose Hip Tea
Rose Hip Apple Sauce
Rose Hip Candy
Rose Hip Crumble Pie
Rose Hip Jelly
Rose Hip Leather
Rose Hip Nut Bread
Rose Hip Pudding
Rose Hip Soup
Rose Hip Syrup

Debbie Jelen's rose hip recipes are at Fortune City.
Rose Water Toner for Dry Skin
Rose Omlet
Rose Beads
Rose Petal Jam
Rose Hip Jelly

Rose Beads
(Fortune City)
Pick a shopping bag full of fresh petals (old wild roses are best). Process in food grinder until resembles clay. Place ground petals in a cast-iron skillet or pot and regrind daily for 2 weeks (no kidding). The paste will become thicker every day until it can be rolled into smooth, hard beads. Roll beads until they are smooth and rounded. Place a hole through the bead with a pin and pin to a corkboard. (Finished beads will be around 1/2 the size of the fresh ones.) Let the beads dry for 2 weeks on the board. Remove the pins and polish each bead with flannel or a soft cloth. String beads into a necklace. As you wear the necklace, the beads will darken and polish and release their rosy fragrance. These beads are suppose to last for generations!

Here is Rosalee Dotson's rose hip syrup recipe.
Rose hip recipe: rose hip syrup

At HomesteadGarden - Growing and Harvesting Rose Hips there is a recipe for rose hip marmalade.

Rose hips have been used to make brandies and liquers. Here is a Danish recipe for Rose Hip Schnapps.
rose hip schnapps recipe

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By Porterbrook on 09-09-2009, 03:40 PM

A very informative and well-written article about our native roses. Thank you for sharing with us.
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By Hedgerowe on 09-09-2009, 04:00 PM

Hazelnut, this is outstanding. I have looked in vain for information on native roses, many times, and have come up with very little. You have written what I have been seeking for years. Thank you!
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By hazelnut on 09-09-2009, 04:15 PM

Thank you Porterbrook. Thank you Hedgerowe.

This article mostly grew out of my own searches to find information that wasn't available in one place. I hope it will be useful.
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By milkweed on 09-09-2009, 04:36 PM

I have R. carolina, find find it easy to grow. Mine is under 3 years old and only a foot tall. It did bloom this year and produced hips. The flowers where a bright pink, but not shockingly so. The hips are turning a nice red color. I tried the hips. The hard seeds were the size of popcorn carnals and the fleshy part waxy. My son said it tasted bitter, I didn't notice a favor.

For humans, the best part of native roses is the fragrance.

I got mine from Prairie Moon Nursery.Prairie Moon Nursery :: Seeds :: Rosa carolina (Pasture Rose)
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By hazelnut on 09-09-2009, 07:37 PM

Thanks for the information, Milkweed. I didn't find many sources for seeds.
I wonder if the seeds will be less bitter after they have had a bit of frost.
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By NEBogger on 09-09-2009, 08:31 PM

You did a lot of research hazelnut!
I just presumed all the little rose shrubs I have seen, were just old native roses. Never gave it a thought that roses, like every thing else introduced, can spread on there own also. Thanks.
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By hazelnut on 09-10-2009, 10:16 AM

NeBogger: Thanks for checking out my article. Most 'ditch' roses are in fact escaped European roses. Some are used for grafting hybrid teas because the H.Ts do not have vigorous roots. When the grafts fail the root develops and spreads. Many roses around old house sites are these failed graft roses. Some European roses were so prolific and introduced early that the Indians adopted them as their own - like the Cherokee roses in the South. Some natives are nearly extinct from being displaced by these introduced roses gone wild. And some are gone forever.
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berries for birds, cinnamomeae, gymnocarpae, meadow rose, native, native plant restoration, native plants, native rose, native roses, native species roses, north, north america, pasture rose, prairie wild rose, restoration, restoration projects, rosa arkansana, rosa blanda, rosa carolina, rosa palustris, rose hip jelly, rose hips, rose water, roses, swamp rose

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