The Best of Native Roses
Greetings from the Shaker Trace Native Seed Nursery! There is an overwhelming amount of information to learn about the native plants we grow here, and I’m looking forward to sharing my newest favorite with you today.
Roses are arguably the most popular flower out there, at the top of almost every list you can find. Many believe they are our oldest cultivated flower. The hybrid roses we are all familiar with are also temperamental and vulnerable to many pests and diseases. With the rise of rose rosette disease (a virus that causes roses to grow strangely deformed stems, leaves and flowers), there has been an increased interest in our native rose varieties as they are believed to be resistant.
Beyond disease resistance, there are plenty of practical and ecological reasons to stick close to home. Our native roses are hard to kill, easy to prune, include cultivars that are repeat bloomers, provide shelter and food for birds and pollinator insects and can make a mean privacy hedge.
There are about 20 species of roses indigenous to the United States and seven in the Midwest. Almost all of our native species boast five-petalled pink blossoms with gold stamens. We have several species growing wild around the perimeter, but only two that we actively grow at the nursery.
Rosa palustris, commonly known as swamp rose, grows in a long hedge in one of our rows on the west side of the nursery. The canes are stabby and intimidating, growing over seven feet tall. Swamp rose – as the name implies – loves wetland habitats and thrives in full sun. Despite this, it can survive quite happily in dryer conditions and will tolerate partial shade. Swamp rose produces some of the largest rose hips of our native species. While they are too big for most birds, deer and other mammals will forage from these during winter.
Rosa blanda, also known as meadow rose or smooth rose, grows in a much more compact form behind our barn. More common north of us, it is hardy from zones 2–6. It is listed as threatened in Ohio in part because of our hot and humid summers. Mostly free of thorns, it is covered in young rose hips with a touch of blush showing. They will be good winter forage for mice and maybe a few other species if they are willing to approach the main road through the nursery.
Plants indigenous to our bioregion are becoming more popular as many folks learn that our insect diversity is shrinking. Our native insects depend on native plants! Retail nurseries are offering so many cultivars of native plants these days, it can be exciting to see, but choose carefully. The more manipulated the cultivars become, the less attractive they are to pollinators. An exotic bloom/leaf color or a reduction in nectar can really impact our efforts to support them. Flies tend to be generalists but bees, moths and butterflies have more specific preferences. For the greatest ecological value, select the “true” native species, especially if planting for the benefit of wildlife.
I’ll leave you with this thought: “If something is not eating your plants, then your garden is not part of the ecosystem.”
Conservation & Parks Technician, Shaker Trace Native Seed Nursery, Miami Whitewater Forest