OREGON'S WILD ROSES!
A rose by any other name...
Portland is the City of Roses and it’s rare to find a garden that does not contain a rose or two or more. However, what we think of immediately when we think of roses is a contemporary hybridization and taming of the wild-haired free spirits that are native roses.
The Pacific Northwest is home to four of these beauties. Fierce in their protective thorns, delicate of flower, they are the stuff of mythology and wonder. No really, they’re quite lovely. They are the "wild rose" of song and literature. And they can be a wonderfully lush addition to your garden -- if you have the space.
Be forewarned: if you’re thinking of a polite, demure hybrid tea rose that will fit politely in that particular corner of the garden, by all means get one and enjoy its beauty! A native rose probably won’t fit that spot. If you relish the thought of a 5’ x 5’ web of beautiful, simple flowers, pink and lightly scented, followed by an abundance of brightly colored hips that the birds will thank you for all winter, a native rose might just be the thing.
Native roses sucker freely and abundantly. If you think you have a black thumb, plant a native rose! Full to partial sun, moist to drought tolerant depending on the species, there is the potential for one of these lovelies to thrive in nearly every garden setting.
They’re not, well, tidy. Or discreet. They are vigorous growers and don’t care who knows it - they can fill a space with a thicket of thorns in a matter of a few seasons. BUT - they are festooned with the most enchanting soft pink single flowers, anywhere from an inch to nearly three across, lightly to moderately scented, throughout the summer months.
The following are the roses at home here in Oregon.
Rosa gymnocarpa - Bald-hip rose
Grows to about 5’, sun to shade, moist to dry, it is one of the more adaptable of the native roses, with small red hips that persist to feed birds through the winter.
Rosa nutkana - Nootka Rose
Delightful native rose with large, bright, orange hips and clusters of one to three 2" pink flowers with a sweet, almost cinnamon scent. Fast grower, reaching 3-6’ and spreading by suckers to form dense thickets, where birds seek shelter and build their nests. Will top out at about 7 - 8’, found in open areas, dry to moist conditions. Tolerates clay.
Rosa pisocarpus - Swamp rose
The name says it - grows in wet places, along stream banks and seepages in full sun to light shade. Can get to 7’ or more, with graceful arching stems and delicate foliage. A beautiful native rose that has several clustered instead of solitary pink flowers. It blooms from May-July and often for a second time in fall.
Rosa woodsii - Wood’s Rose
This is the one not found west of the Cascades. Grows 3’, sometimes taller, as wide or wider. Happy in sun to part shade, wants good drainage and regular water, though is tolerant of varying conditions.
Photos courtesy of Wallace W. Hansen Native Plants of the Northwest.
FACTS: WILD ROSE
Common Name: Wild Rose
Origin: Species native to Oregon are also found from California to Idaho, Montana and British Columbia
Characteristics: Medium to large, thicket forming stand of multi-stemmed shrubs bearing pink flowers spirng and summer, followed by bright red to purple rosehips.
Culture: Tolerant of wide soil types including heavy clay. Moderate to fully drought tolerant. Sun to partial shade.
Maintenance: Can be cut back in late winter to manage size and shape.
After blooming, wild roses form rosehips small to large, red to nearly purple that birds find delicious. Rosehips are also notoriously delicious in teas and jellies - but a warning when using native roses: there are often hairs surrounding the seeds in the hips that irritate the human intestinal tract, so a process that separates the seeds from the "meat" of the hips should be used before cooking.
In the past, rosehips were used for many medicinal purposes (they're loaded with vitamin C). A proper method of preparation is possible to make these vitamin powerhouses accessible. Please do your research before using the native rosehips for culinary or medicinal purposes.
Note: Rosa woodsii (Wood's Rose) doesn't carry the irritating hairs in its hips and also grows to a more manageable average height of three feet, making it especially suitable for the home gardener.