As Valentine’s Day approaches, images of red, heart-shaped boxes of candies, soft stuffed animals, and bouquets of red, white, and pink flowers become commonplace. Because the image of the perfect cluster of red, velvety roses is so pervasive, we seldom think about the source of these ever-popular ornamental flowers. Store-bought roses are hybrids of plants in the genus Rosa, and these familiar plants are most often from Europe or Asia. However, the Domain hosts four Rosa species, and their presence here ranges from native to dangerous invasive.
Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina) is a common native shrub which can be found in the Central and Eastern United States. This plant flowers in early summer, unfolding light pink flowers which attract bees and other pollinators. Carolina Rose has 5-9 leaflets per leaf and straight, pin-like thorns. You can find it in Sewanee in open, disturbed habitats on the plateau and in the cove.
Climbing Rose (Rosa setigera) is a native shrub which can also be found in the Central and Eastern United States. It produces pink flowers in early summer which turn white over time. This rose also prefers disturbed habitats and has been found in the cove. Climbing Rose gets its name from the propensity for its branches to climb nearby structures, reaching up to 15 feet. It has curved thorns and typically less that 5 leaflets per leaf. While Carolina Rose and Climbing Rose superficially seem similar, you can tell them apart by their thorns and the number of leaflets.
Memorial Rose (Rosa wichuraiana) is an introduced shrub which is native to East Asia. On the Domain, we consider it to be a persistent planting, meaning that there are cases where it was once planted, but continues to persist without the help of people. It has been used to produce new hybrids of ornamental rose and is known for its fragrant white flowers, which can be seen in late spring. Memorial rose has 5-9 leaflets.
Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) is an invasive rose native to East Asia. It was brought to the United States to act as a living fence and as cover for native species, but it quickly spread uncontrollably. The Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council lists it as Severe Threat in the state. It can produce either white or pink flowers in the early summer. Multiflora Rose can be distinguished from Memorial Rose by its feathery leaf stalk bases. Its thorns are curved, and it can have 7-9 leaflets on each leaf. In Sewanee, it can be found along Breakfield Road, by Lake Cheston, and is likely still cultivated in some gardens despite its highly invasive nature.
If seeing these roses has given you the itch to create a homemade valentine, visit the Sewanee Herbarium February the 14th at 9:30 am to mount pressed plants. More information can be found here.