(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 23, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)


In England during World War II school children made regular trips out to the hedgerows to gather hips from wild roses. The hips were seeded and made into a nutritious syrup used to maintain the health of the nation when citrus fruits could not be imported. English school boys exploited the culture of "rose hipping" adventures by salvaging the hairy seeds which were otherwise discarded. The dried seeds were crushed into "itch powder" and saved for an opportune moment when they could be dumped down the back of an unsuspecting girls dress. [1] Note that "itch powder" was not intended to cure itching, but to cause it. The culture of "rose hipping" seems never to have developed in the United States. But, it may be a practice worth cultivating.

I would not advocate bullying young girls by dumping "itch powder" down their dresses, but the cultivation of wild roses could enrich the lives and health of anyone with the space to put in a small hedge of native wild roses.

According to Dr. Weil, in addition to Vitamin C, [2] "Rose hips also contain vitamins A, B-3, D and E as well as bioflavonoids, citric acid, flavonoids, fructose, malic acid, tannins and zinc. " Many wild roses are shade tolerant and would fit well into a food forest planting. [3] The flowers of native roses are nearly all single five petalled blooms ranging from thumbnail size to perhaps 2 inches in diameter in some shade of pink - rarely white. The flowers provide broad spectrum pollen which attracts bees and butterflies. So wild roses are excellent to have for bee keepers or fruit orchards. Nearly all wild roses bloom only once in late spring or early summer. The fruit or hips develop in the fall. If the fruit is not consumed by birds or small animals, it can be gathered and processed into marmalade, pancake syrup, or even schnapps perhaps to enjoy medicinally on a winter's evening. There are links to rose hip recipes as well as one for making rosary beads from the petals below in the recipe section. Some roses have more interesting hips than others. Rhea Worrell discusses the range of fruits produced by various species roses in her article Rose Hips Part II [4]


When I decided to write about the roses native to North America, I did not anticipate that there would not be a ready list of the species, their characteristics, and their habitats. Part of the difficulty is the transitional state of rose taxonomy. Traditionally roses were grouped together on the basis of their observable characteristics. But, as genetic studies become available, traditional nomenclature is being revised to more accurately reflect the heritage of species. A discussion of rose genetics is far beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to realize that the nomenclature of native rose species is ephemeral depending upon the results of current and future studies of rose genetics. Also, accurate taxonomies are important because otherwise 'ordinary language' descriptions such as 'prairie rose', 'woods rose', 'California rose', etc. do not have any clear meaning as to actual native species represented by those terms. In fact several separate species are designated by the terms, "California rose", "prairie rose", "woods rose"and "Virginia rose" and others. Studies are now showing that even some scientific designations to not merit separate species classification.

One important effort to deal with the problem of rose nomenclature is Barbara Ertter's study of Native California Roses. [5] Barbara Ertter places the nine roses that are native to California into three distinct taxonomic groups. The first group - the thicket forming roses - belong the the section within Rosa of Cinnamomeae. This group includes Rosa californica, Rosa nutkana var. nutkana, Rosa pisocarpa, and Rosa woodsii. The second taxonomic group are four roses within the Section Gymnocarpae. These are wood and ground roses that are short growing and rhizomatous species. These include Rosa gymnocarpa, Rosa bridgesii, Rosa spithamea, and Rosa pinetorum. All of these are limited to California and southern Oregon. The third taxonomic classification are roses of the Subgroup Hesperhodos. Within this classification only Rosa minutifolia is a native California rose.

Joly and Bruneau [6] studied the taxonomic Section Cinnamomeae east of the Rocky Mountains. The study 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.

These native wild rose species are described further in the List of Native Roses of North America compiled below.


Another complication in the understanding of native roses is the presence of introduced species that have naturalized into the landscape. Naturalized species roses may have been introduced by the earliest European settlers and naturalized so early that many people believe them to be native roses. The Cherokee rose (Rosa Laevigata) and the Chickasaw rose/McCartney rose (Rosa bracteata) are examples. [7] One of these was McCartney Rose, introduced - not by Sir Paul McCartney of the 1960s who also has a very nice rose named for him - but by Lord McCartney who brought the rose from China in the 1700s. While McCartney rose proved to be aggressively invasive many of its hybrids (such as Mermaid) have in fact produced worthy garden roses.

In a study of the Escambia River valley of southeastern Alabama and northern Florida several naturalized and potentially invasive species roses were identified. These included Cherokee Rose Rosa laevigata, Chickasaw Rose or McCartney Rose Rosa bracteata, The Seven Sisters rose Rosa multiflora platyphylla, and Prairie rose or 'Pride of Virginia' Rosa suffuita, which is the State Flower of North Dakota. [8]

Figure 1. Cherokee Rose. Rosa Laevigata.
Cherokee Roses were found growing at Creek and Cherokee villages by the earliest explorers. [9] The Cherokee rose became the symbol of the Cherokee "Trail of Tears" forced removal from their homelands in Georgia. In 1916 the Cherokee Rose became the State Flower of Georgia. [10] At one time the Cherokee Rose was also the State Flower of North Carolina where it was commonly associated with historic sites. One of those historic sites was Richmond Hill, The Law School near Asheville, North Carolina. There was a blacksmith-made iron fence at the law school that was planted with Cherokee Roses about the time of the Civil War. When decendants moved to Greensboro, Alabama they brought sections of the blacksmith-made iron fence and the Cherokees to plant at the historic house in Greensboro, Alabama. The North Carolina Cherokees, which by some accounts are not as invasive as they are elsewhere, flourished until the last of the Greensboro family died. Then the local Mayor decided to "clean up" the property and the Cherokees along with most of the other Victorian roses were doused with herbicide. The North Carolina Cherokee Roses were relatively well behaved, but the Alabama Cherokees are rampant invasive plants. Just as there is no good snake, there is no good rose to local grounds maintenance crews.

In some cases naturalized species were introduced as root stocks to grafted roses. As the graft failed the

Figure 2. Rosa canina.
vigorous root stocks flourished and became naturalized around old homesteads, into ditch banks or along streams where the derelict plants were supported by adequate moisture. Rosa canina (HMF) 'Dog rose' was used as root stock before 1900. It is a native of Europe and was introduced into the U.S. by early settlers. It has a pale pink or white flower and grows to 12 ft. Rosa canina is a single variable white to light pink early flowering shade tolerant rose growing arch fashioned to 12 ft. It has orange-red hips in the fall. It is native to Europe and very common there. The rose was introduced to the United States and to New Zealand by early colonists. Rosa canina now occurs in 21 states and Canada (USDA NRCS).

Rosa rugosa. (See Fig. 3&4.) Rugosa roses are not native to the United States but the species and cultivars hybrids from a major class within the world of roses. Like the bracteata roses, the species are highly invasive, but cultivars have become fine landscape roses. And most rugosas do produce a fine crop of hips. An excellent introduction to the species Rosa Rugosa and to its hybrids is Suzanne Verrier's Rosa Rugosa [11] The species Rosa rugosa is classified as a noxious weed in the state of Connecticut. [12]

Image Image Image
Figure 3. Rosa rugosa 'Alba' Figure 4. Rosa rugosa 'Alba' Figure 5. Rosa multiflora

Multiflora roses (See Fig. 5) are native to Korea, eastern China and Japan. They were imported from Japan in 1886 and have been used as root stocks for cultivated roses. The plant expands by suckering and is aggressively invasive. Rosa multiflora is classified as a noxious weed in 12 states. (USDA NCRS) In some places it is even illegal to plant this rose. [13]

Figure 6. Rosa glauca/Rosa rubrifolia
An exceptional naturalized species rose is Rosa glauca, the red leaved rose. It is native to European mountains and is readily naturalized from seeds. (HMF) Rosa glauca/Rosa rubrifolia. Now Rosa ferruiginea. (HMF) Rosa glauca occurs in Zones 2 through 9. It is a bushy spreading plant between 5 and 10 ft in height. Rosa glauca is an excellent landscape quality shrub providing broad seasonal interest with its red leaves in addition to its pink flowers in spring and hips in the fall. Rosa glauca is discussed further in this thread [14] in the Trees and Shrubs Forum. Ann Lovejoy describes Rosa glauca like this: "Companion plants: In my old garden, a vase-shaped Rosa glauca spread its prickly arms above a mass of rosy Persicaria affinis 'Superba' and sheaves of 'Purple Sensation' alliums. The rose has but a fleeting flower, so its leggy branches were hung with the scrambling Clematis x durandii (USDA Zone 5; to 5 ft.), whose navy-blue flowers were lifted into prominence by the shimmering, pewtery rose foliage . . .. [15 ]

In some cases invasive species were introduced as desirable plants - much like the Asian kudzu and Asian wisteria in the South - like a beautiful woman with evil intentions. They looked good at first, but they were actually aggressive conquerors of space - pushing out anything that was naturally there previously. Many of the introduced naturalized roses have become invasive in some areas. At the same time several native species are endanged and are protected in some States: Rosa acicularis, 'Prickly rose', Rosa arkansana, 'Prairie rose, Rosa blanda, Smooth rose, Rosa minutifolia, baja rose, Rosa nitida, 'Shining rose, and Rosa stellata 'Desert rose'. (USDA NCRS)

A list of threatened and endangered roses is presented at plants.usda.gov. [16] USDA NCRS


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.)

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. 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. USDA Distribution Map. It is endangered in several states.

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. Rosa blanda 'Traverse' is a commercially available cultivar from northern Michigan [17] Rosa blanda is threatened or endanged in Maine, Maryland, and Ohio.

The native distribution of Rosa blanda is shown in this USDA distribution map. (USDA NRCS) 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 Errtter (NCR) found that Rosa yainacensis is not a distinct species from Rosa bridgesii.

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)

Figure 7. Rosa Carolina

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 x dulcissima. Rosa blanda x Rosa woodsii is native to 5 northern states and Canada.

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 x housei, Rosa acicularis x Rosa blanda, is native to Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York. (USDA NCRS)

Rosa manca, Mancos Rose, 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) Rosa minutifolia, '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 NCRS) 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 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 for Rosa palustris.

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' is indigenous to the west coast of Northern California northward to British Columbia. (NCR)

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 for Rosa setigera. Rosa setigera var. tomentosa. Climbing Rose. Illinois Rose.

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.

Figure 8. Rosa virginiana
Rosa Virginiana 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 .

Figure 9. Rosa Woodsii.
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.

Rosa yainacensis. The Cascade Rose is native to California and Oregon. Rosa yainacensis = Rosa bridgesii [NCR]

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. In wild gardens they provide nesting spots or santuary to small mammals. Near orchards or berry patches they attract pollinators as well as offering their own fruit to be preserved for winter use.

Roses recommended for winter berries and nests in Wisconsin include Swamp rose, R. palustris, Pasture Rose, R. carolina, Meadow Rose, R. blanda. Prairie Wild Rose, R. arkansana provides berries for 38 different species of birds [20]


Forest Farm. A Patchwork of Rose Hip Recipes. forestfarm.com

Rose Hip Syrup

Rose Hip Jam

Rose hip Tea

Rose hip Puree

Swedish Rose Hip Soup

Wild Roses: Hips, Haws, Vitamin C. kstrom.net

Rose hip jam,

Rose hip jelly,

Rose hip honey,

Rose hip tea

Rose Hip Schnapps. danish-schnapps-recipes.com

Debbie Jelen. Rose Hip Recipes. members.furtunecity.com

Rose Water Toner for Dry Skin

Rose Omlet

Rose Beads

Rose Petal Jam

Rose Hip Jelly

Carol Eads. Rose Petal Beads. daves garden Thanks, Carol, for permission to use your instructions for Rose Petal Beads.

Gail Butler. Gather Rose Hips for Health. backwoodshome.com

Rose Hip Tea

Rose Hip Syrup

Swedish Rose Hip Soup

Rose Hip Wine

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Equilibrium, consultant for native plant resources. Thanks, Equil!


CNR. California Native Roses. Barbara Ertter. ucjeps.berkeley.edu

The Connecticut Botanical Society. ct-botanical-society.org.

HMF. Help Me Find My Rose helpmefind.com.

LBJWFC. Native Plant Database. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. The university of Texas at Austin. wildflower.org

USDA. NRCS. United States Department of Agriculture. National Resource Conservation Service. Plant Database. Plants.usda.gov ROSA 5


[1] Wild About Britian Forum. Rose Hips. wildaboutbritain.co.uk

[2] Health Benefits of Rose Hips. drweil.com

[3] Food-Forest-in-a-Barrel. Natural Home Magazine.

[4] Rhea Worrell. Rose Hips Part II. Ezine Publication. helpmefind.com

[5] Barbara Ertter. 2001. Native California Roses. Prepared for the Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. ucjeps.berkeley.edu

[6] Delimiting Species boundaries in Rosa Sect. Cinnamomeae (Rosaceae) in eastern North America, by Joly, Simon: Bruneau, Ann. Systematic Botany. Vol 32, No. 4, Oct. 2007. Published by American Society of Plant Taxonomists. ingentaconnect.com.

[7] William Grant. Rosa Laevigata Family. Ezine publication. HelpMeFind

[8] Darryl Searcy. 2004. Wild Flowers of the Escambia. Jefferson State Community College.

[9] Cherokee rose. Auburn University.

[10] About North Georgia. The Trail of Tears. ngeorgia.com

[11] Verrier, Suzanne and Charles Steinhacker (photographer) Mar. 1999. Rosa rugosa. Firefly Books. ISBN - 10- 0913643076, ISBN - 13 978-0913643075

[12] The Connecticut Botanical Society. ct-botanical-society.org.

[13] Invasion Biology. Introduced Species Summary Project: Multiflora Rose. columbia.edu

[14] Dave's Garden Decumbent's thread: Rosa Glauca. Trees and Shrubs Forum.

[15] Quoted at HelpMeFind.com/Rosa glauca/References. From Ann Lovejoy. May 1999:36. Threads of the Tapestry. Horticulture Magazine. May 1999

[16] Plants USDA list of threatened and endangered native species roses. Plants USDA

[17] Rosa blanda 'Traverse' is commerically available from the Oikos Tree Company.

[18] H. Lewis' monograph 1958 (Printed 1959) The Southwestern Naturalist 3:145-153. A Monograph of the Genus Rosa In North America. II. R. Foliolosa.

[19] Illinois Wildflowers.

[20] Wild Ones. Wisconsin's Best Native Plants for Attracting Birds. for-wild.org


Thumbnail. Rosa carolina. Hips. Equilibrium. Plant Files.

Figure 1. Rosa laevigata. Cherokee rose. patp. Plant Files.

Figure 2. Rosa Canina. Todd Boland. Plant Files.

Figure 3. Rosa rugosa 'Alba'. Todd Boland. Plant Files.

Figure 4. Rosa rugosa 'Alba' Hips. Kell. Plant Files.

Figure 5. Rosa multiflora. Ohio Breesy. Plant Files.

Figure 6. Rosa Glauca. Todd Boland. Plant Files.

Figure 7. Rosa carolina. Todd Boland. Plant Files.

Figure 8. Rosa virginiana. Todd Boland. Plant Files.

Figure 9. Rosa Woodsii. Tutti Fruitti. Plant Files.