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8 Favorites: Native Roses

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8 Favorites: Native Roses

June 9, 2023

I’ve always loved roses—especially those blowsy, old varieties. They’re lush, fragrant, and endlessly romantic. But growing them can be a challenge. As I look to grow more natives in my garden, I wanted to learn more about roses endemic to the U.S.

With about 20 species of rose native to the U.S., these perennial bloomers can be found growing in meadows and prairies, deserts, woodlands, even on the sides of roadways across the country. But don’t confuse them with invasive varieties, like multiflora rose, a perennial shrub native to Asia that is encroaching on meadows and woodsy areas throughout the Northeast, or rugosa rose, which is spreading in coastal areas due to in part to its salt tolerance. These invasives harm the eco-system by displacing native plants, which are critical food sources for wildlife.

Most native roses are single-petaled, pretty in pink, and only flower once. While they might be more subtle than many modern hybrids, they are brimming with pollen and nectar, which is invaluable to pollinators. “Many modern roses are sterile,” says Julie Marcus, senior horticulturalist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “But native roses attract bees and butterflies and their hips lure birds.” Many also provide nesting sites and material for bees, as well as hosting larvae for butterflies and moths. The rosehips, which range from the size of a pea to that of a marble, add color to the winter landscape, hanging on long after the foliage drops, that is, “if the birds don’t get them all first,” says Marcus with a laugh.

To grow native roses at home, Marcus recommends you “evaluate your space first.” Look at how much room you have, your light, and soil conditions. “Then think about where these roses are found in the wild to see what you can grow,” she says. (Search for species on the wildflower.org plant database to see what’s native to your area and what growing requirements the rose needs.) When selected properly, native roses are hardy, adapted to your region, and will flourish with minimal work from you. Here are some standouts found throughout the country.

Climbing Prairie Rose

Photograph courtesy of Andy and Sally Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Andy and Sally Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Sporting pretty, pink flowers about two inches in diameter with a subtle fragrance, climbing prairie rose (R. setigera) is a climber that will tolerate some light shade. It’s found naturally on the edges of woodlands and prairies thickets. Plant in well-drained soil and give it lots of room to grow. “Its branches can reach 15 feet, says Marcus. “In the wild they tangle over themselves, which provides structure and nesting material for bees.”

Swamp Rose

Photograph by Malcolm Manners.
Above: Photograph by Malcolm Manners.

If you’ve got a boggy area or are planning a rain garden, try growing the swamp rose (Rosa palustris). Native to the Eastern U.S., it loves wet soil and can handle a bit of light shade. The fragrant pink flowers showcase cheerful yellow stamens. After it finishes bloom around July, it will start to produce pea-sized hips, much loved by birds.

Prairie Rose

Photograph by Michael Wolf.
Above: Photograph by Michael Wolf.

Prairie rose (R. arkansana) stays relatively small, reaching about five feet in height. This shrubby perennial works well in a prairie grassland setting and has a wide distribution naturally ranging from Massachusetts to as far west to Indiana, Texas, and Montana. In addition to its benefit to bees, prairie rose will attract butterflies. It’s also highly drought tolerant.

White Prairie Rose

Photograph by Sheila Brown.
Above: Photograph by Sheila Brown.

One of the few white flowered native roses, white prairie rose (R. foliolosa) is native to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. The pint-sized beauty stays low to the ground, topping off at about two feet, and has a subtle fragrance. Recommended for small spaces.

Pasture Rose

Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Brundage, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Brundage, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

According to the Wildflower Center, pasture rose (R. carolina) is one of the most shade tolerant roses, though it does best in sunny conditions. Native to eastern and central U.S. meadows, fields, and along roadsides, it produces pink flowers in summer and tiny red hips in fall.

Wood’s Rose

Above: Photograph courtesy of Alan Cressler, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

From late spring through summer, woods’ rose or Western wild rose (R. woodsii) produces hot pink blooms that fade to light pink. Native to western U.S., it can be found in woods and along streambanks. Shade tolerant, it prefers sandy to light clay soils where it grows in dense thickets. Orange-red hips appear in late summer.

Smooth Rose

Above: Photograph courtesy of Julie Makin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Nearly thornless, smooth rose or early wild rose (R. blanda) is a larval host for butterflies and moths, including apple sphynx and cecropia moths. An enthusiastic grower, it will spread by root suckers so plant it in a spot where it has plenty of room to grow.

Nootka Rose

Above: Photograph courtesy of R.W. Smith, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The Nootka rose (R. nutkana) flaunts large pink flowers and pear-shaped, purplish hips, food for birds and small mammals in fall an winter. This western variety grows vigorously, spreading by rhizomes, and works well in areas where you want to control soil erosion.

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Frequently asked questions

What are native roses?

Native roses are rose plants that have evolved in a particular region or habitat without any human intervention or cultivation. They are indigenous to a specific area and are naturally adapted to the local climate and soil conditions.

Why should I choose native roses?

There are several reasons to choose native roses. They are typically more resistant to local pests, diseases, and climatic conditions. Native roses also support local ecosystems by providing habitat and food for native wildlife. Additionally, they often require less maintenance and watering compared to non-native rose varieties.

What are some popular native rose varieties?

Some popular native rose varieties include Rosa setigera (Illinois Rose), Rosa carolina (Carolina Rose), Rosa woodsii (Wood's Rose), Rosa virginiana (Virginia Rose), and Rosa californica (California Rose). These varieties are well-suited for their respective regions and offer beautiful blooms and unique characteristics.

How do I care for native roses?

Caring for native roses is relatively similar to caring for other rose varieties. Provide them with well-drained soil, full sun exposure, and regular watering. Prune them in late winter or early spring to remove dead or diseased branches. Mulching around the base of the plants can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. It's also important to monitor for any signs of pests or diseases and take appropriate action if needed.

Where can I buy native roses?

You can buy native roses from various sources. Local plant nurseries or garden centers often carry a selection of native rose varieties suitable for your region. Online plant retailers and specialized native plant nurseries are also good options. Make sure to choose reputable sellers to ensure the quality and authenticity of the plants.

Can I grow native roses in containers?

Yes, native roses can be grown in containers, but it's important to choose a container large enough to accommodate the root system and provide adequate drainage. Use a well-draining potting mix and ensure the container receives sufficient sunlight. Regular watering and fertilizing may be required as container-grown plants tend to dry out more quickly. Monitor the plant closely and make adjustments as needed.

Are native roses suitable for all climates?

Native roses are adapted to specific climates and soil conditions, so it's important to select varieties that are suitable for your region. Some native roses thrive in colder climates, while others are better suited for warmer or drier regions. Research the specific requirements of the native rose varieties you're interested in and choose accordingly.

Do native roses attract pollinators?

Yes, native roses are excellent for attracting pollinators to your garden. Their vibrant blooms and fragrance attract various pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. By planting native roses, you are providing a valuable food source for these beneficial insects and birds, contributing to a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

Can I hybridize or cross-pollinate native roses?

Yes, it is possible to hybridize or cross-pollinate native roses, but it requires specialized knowledge and techniques. If you're interested in experimenting or creating your own unique rose varieties, it's advisable to seek guidance from experienced rose breeders or horticulturists. They can provide insights into the specific requirements and methods for successful hybridization.

Are native roses invasive?

Native roses are not typically considered invasive. They have evolved naturally in their respective habitats and have established a balance with the local ecosystems. However, it's always important to be cautious and avoid planting native rose species in areas where they may outcompete or negatively impact native flora and fauna.

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