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The Monday Garden
Wild Roses and Brambles

Issue No. 165 - May 22, 2005
by Sue Sweeney

Rosa is an amazing plant family: peaches, pears, cherries, and apples are roses; strawberries are roses. In the “bramble” (prickly shrub) class, around where I live we have two disastrous foreigners, two great natives, and one in between. The “Great American” natives are the swamp rose (Rosa palustris) and the black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). The bad, bad guys are the Rosa mulitflora, and the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius). The in-between is the Asian rosa rugosa, classified by some as an invasive villain, and by others as sustainable ecology hero. The first four are definitely bird-spread; there’s some question whether the birds ever get around to munching on the big, fat rugosa rose hips.
Picture: rosa rugosa Hoyt Street Alley, Stamford CT May 2005
In spring, when you’re deciding what to buy from the nursery and what to weed out from what the birds brought you last year, it is good to know your brambles, good, bad and in-between. Rosa mulitflora: The rosa mulitflora is on most environmentalists’ top-10 worse invasive list. It came into North America in the late 1800’s from Japan for use as root stock for ornamental rose grafting. In WPA days, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, unfortunately, discovered its value for erosion control and as "living fences". Now, unless you live close to the North Pole or in the arid southwest, you’ve met the plant. You’ll usually find it in the protected part-shade of the edge-of forest; roadsides, etc. -- anywhere that birds roost, where soil has been disturbed, and there’s some moisture in the summer (for example, your garden).
Picture: rosa mulitflora Hoyt Street Alley, Stamford, CT June 2004
Critters from bobwhites to rabbits love rosa mulitflora for the thick bramble-habitat that it creates and for the rose hips that provide late-winter survival food. Pollinating insects love it, too. And since it is from Japan, presumably its countrymen, the Japanese beetles, love it, too. The one positive benefit I can see in rosa mulitflora is that it tends to form impenetrable walls at the edge of wild areas which keeps humans out so that the flora and fauna can flourish. However, like the other top invaders, and like suburban sprawl, rosa mulitflora decreases our precious bio-diversity, taking space that rightfully belongs to our play-nicely-with-others native species.

Pictures: rosa mulitflora leaf, young stem with thorn, and winter rose hips, Hoyt Street Alley and Waterside, Stamford, CT 2004 - 2005

One of the horrible things about rosa mulitflora is that it can climb trees. Once in the tree, it is hard, and can be dangerous, to get it the thorny thing down again. If left to its own devices, the rosa mulitflora will pull the tree down and kill it. Another horrible thing about rosa mulitflora is that it makes millions of seeds every year and deposits them in the soil’s seed bank, with a dormancy of up to 20 (yes, 20!) years. They say one of the best ways to control rosa mulitflora, and the other invasive rose-brambles, is repeated mowing (see Issue 160 on eradicating invasives).

In the garden, you’ll recognize rose multi-flora because its leaves look just like your average rose, only you didn’t plant it. It is a pretty plant, and it is tempting to let it stay. However, this is not a good idea because it will take over and once it has been around long enough for you to hate it, it is very hard to root-out. Meanwhile, unless you cut off every single flower before rose hips form, you are guilty of pollinating by invasive plant.

Rosa rugosa: The rugosa rose also came from Asia and was named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of leaves. It is legally classified as “having invasive tendencies” in my home state of Connecticut; and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden lists it as “clearly invasive” in NYC area.


Pictures: rosa rugosa bud, stem and unripe hip, Hoyt Street Alley and Bedford Street, Stamford CT 2004- 2005

To be truly invasive (as opposed to just a weedy, aggressive annoyance), a plant has to be capable of “jumping” long distances by wind, water, bird, etc. in to uncultivated areas. There is some question about the degree to which the birds and other critters spread the seeds from the rose hips. However, where established, there is no question that the rugosa forms a thick clump via root suckers that pushes out many of the surrounding plants (except grass; rugosa seems to come with tall, weedy grasses just where you can’t get to them without shoulder-length leather “rose gloves”). The plant is very salt-tolerant and good at erosion control which why you see it planted along the beach so often, where it can be a menace to native beach plants

However, the rugosa rose is also listed with “Plants For A Future” as a keeper due to its hardiness and nutritional value. Rose hips, generally, are said to be high in vitamins A, C and E (seeds), flavonoids; and essential fatty acids (supposedly rare in a fruit). The difference between rosa rugosa and many other roses is that, while the rugosa rose attracts most of the same rose pests and diseases, from aphids and Japanese beetles to powdery mildew and black-spot, it survives them nicely without chemical intervention. Further, it doesn’t need fancy, expensive, water-polluting fertilizers; it does fine in poor soil.

You cam tell the rugosa rose by its wrinkled leaves, fat (one inch) rose hips, yellow flower stamens, and grey stems so densely covered with short spines that they look hairy.
Wineberry: Wineberry is a baddie; there’s not question at all about its invasive tendencies. If you doubt me, go look along your roadside. It is there, crowding out the local guys. The birds munch up the fruit ASAP and spread it like crazy.

Picture: wineberry; note the white underside of the leaves. Bedford Street Stamford CT May 2004
Wineberry is very attractive. It looks like our native caneberries except the leaves are a bit more wrinkled, and larger with extra lobes, and the stems are covered with short red spines that look like hairs. Even the flower buds are covered in mean little wine-red prickles. The berries are probably good for human consumption but most locations in which it grows (roadsides, dumps, etc) are possibly polluted.

Picture: wineberry leaf, stem and unripe fruit, Hoyt Street Alley, various parking lots Stamford CT 2004-2005

Like the rosa mulitflora, if it is on your land, get rid of it. Full stop.

Native caneberries: We have several native “caneberries”, the collective name for raspberries, blackberries and kin. The most common one in my area is the delicious and adorable black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). It does pop up in gardens and hedges, and under bird roosting spots, particularly in the edge-of-forest zone; I also see it along the Mill River. Unfortunately, I also see it (and everything else in sight) being crowded out by wineberry.

Picture: Native blackberry , parking lot near Hoyt Street Alley, Stamford CT Summer 2004
If you want something for the birds, the native caneberries are a much better choice than wineberry. The plants I’ve observed in the wild do “play nicely with others” for the most part, while providing habitat and feeding the birds and other critters. (Even domestic dogs and coyotes like black berries).

Native roses: North America is blessed with a dozen or so native roses. Mine is the swamp rose (Rosa palustris). It is just plain glorious and a great reward for slogging through the sweaty, buggy summer swamp. Its winter rose hips are just as beautiful.


Pictures: native swamp rose, note the leaf spot, Bartlett Arboretum, Stamford CT 2004

However, don’t think just because the roses are local natives that they’ll do well in your yard without a chemical assist. Roses need full sun which means 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM all summer, and good air circulation, and adequate moisture, and correct nutrition and soil PH. And they still get Japanese beetles, leaf spot, etc. So, unless you can tolerate the pests without running for the spray bottle, for the sake of our kids and the planet, don’t be selfish- please choose something else to grow.
Picture: blackberry leaf, near Hoyt Street Alley, Stamford CT May 2005
From The Monday Garden. Copyright © by Sue Sweeney. Reproduced with permission. 

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