Photo: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Julie Makin

Photo: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Julie Makin

Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina)

I’ve been thinking a lot about native roses recently. Pasture Rose, our shortest native rose, typically grows between one and three feet high, making it one of our best garden selections due to its low height.

It grows in full and partial sun conditions in soils with average to dry moisture. Based on the variety of natural habitats it is found in – including sand dunes, oak savannas, abandoned fields, along railroads and in waste areas, it is clear it is tolerant of a variety of soils although it prefers some loam in the mix. Our Illinois genotype shows good drought resistant although other references from out of state describe its water needs as medium to wet.

Pasture Rose flowers in early summer (June) for a period of about a month with two to 2 ½” wide, fragrant, solitary flowers in shades of pink, rarely white. They have numerous bright yellow stamens with a central, flat, wide pistil.

IL Wildflowers lists 20 moth species that feed on our native rose species as do a broad variety of other invertebrates. They are visited by a number of different bees including long-tongued bees such as bumblebees, and digger and green metallic bees among others. While the flowers are sweet-smelling they provide only pollen; visitors receive no nectar reward.

In late summer and early fall, bright red rose hips develop that are attractive to several upland game birds and small mammals. Fall color may be red but is usually not remarkable. This plant may be browsed by deer in spite of the prickles on the stems, however, Pasture Rose has a deep central taproot and is also rhizomatous. This helps its ability to withstand a bit of chewing!

Its tendency to colonize makes it a good candidate as a low hedge and I am considering it to replace the hedge cotoneaster I inherited along my garage. It will achieve its best health and most attractive flowering if it receives a minimum of 6 hours of full sun. If you are looking to plant a native rose in your garden, Pasture Rose is a great addition that will add some nice habitat!

Note: further images can be seen at the Illinois Plant Information Network hosted by the Illinois Natural History Survey.