A common site on abandoned land, wild roses come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. They generally are low shrubs, from 2-6 feet (.6-1.8 m) tall, with pink flowers from May until August. From July onwards, they produce scarlet “hips” or fruits that often hang on throughout the winter. Leaves are alternate and compound, made up of 5-7 small, toothed leaflets. Twigs have distinctive (and very sharp) thorns. Bark is green on new growth and turns red-to-brown as the plant gets older.
Can be found most often on unfarmed pastureland, and in meadows, hedgerows and windbreaks. Of the two main native species, Carolina or pasture rose (Rosa carolina) grows on drier sites, while Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana) tolerates wetter conditions along the edges of marshes or swamps. Both species grow best in full sun and will not tolerate much shading. Wild rose suckers freely from roots and underground stems, forming dense colonies if allowed to run wild.
Transplanting can be successful, but since you are usually digging up runners with few roots, it is best to cut off most top growth above 6 inches (15 cm). Make a diagonal cut just above a bud. Plant where you can provide adequate water, mulch thoroughly, and do not give up hope. Often they will initially turn brown and wither, but weeks later one or two new green shoots appear from the crown. They really are tough, resilient plants. Summer cuttings also work well if you avoid the soft tips, but success is usually less than 50%. We are also trying seed at Macphail Woods. Collect anytime after hips ripen, separate seeds from fruit by hand and plant in a nursery bed. These seeds have hard seed coats and will take at least two years to germinate. Seeds collected as soon as the hips turn scarlet and planted immediately may germinate sooner.
Rose hips are a preferred food of northern mockingbird, Swainson’s thrush and cedar waxwing. They are also eaten by a dozen other species and used as emergency food during the winter. See our Attracting Birds in Winter page for more information. Ruffed grouse and ring-necked pheasant also eat the buds in winter, while many birds use thickets of wild rose for cover and protection from predators. Many types of small mammals are also known to browse fruit, leaves and twigs.
Areas of Usage:
A very ornamental addition to semi-wild landscape plantings around the home. Again, plant wild rose only where thickets can form. Leaves change colour in the fall and the scarlet fruit contrasts nicely against a snowy background. Rose hips are rich in Vitamin C and can be added to jellies and teas. Wild roses are also useful as a low shrub in windbreaks and hedgerow plantings, enhancing both the landscape and wildlife habitat. Since wild roses frequently hybridize, try to plant roses from wet areas into wet areas and from dry sites to dry sites. This is a good idea whether transplanting or growing from seed or cuttings.