Species Roses

Home About the ORS Best Roses ORS Calendar Growing Resources Species Roses Garden Residents Articles



Landscaping with Species Roses

by Mark Whitelaw, ARS Consulting Rosarian

Landscaping with roses can be a challenge, and choosing the right rose for the right purpose and the right location is important to the success of your landscape design. Roses often overlooked for landscape use are the Species or "wild" roses and their more recent hybrids.

As a generalization, Species roses bloom in pale colors - usually white, blush pink, medium pink and yellow. A few, however, bloom in the deeper shades of yellow, red, crimson and purple. All of the yellows originated from Asia while the reds were originally native only to China. Remontant roses, those that repeat their bloom through the same growing season, were exclusively from the eastern periphery of Asia.

Although indigenous to almost every corner of the globe, botanists like to "pigeon hole" plants into categories or groups, and Species roses are no different. There are 12 botanical rose groupings which distinguish roses by their physical and genetic characteristics. For the sake of consistency, we'll look at the various roses from the point of these groupings. Becoming familiar with these characteristics can assist you in determining which rose may be best suited for your garden landscape, your local growing conditions, and your intended uses for the rose.

Let's look briefly at each of these rose groups and some of their descendants.


So called because their foliage is reminiscent of the pimpinella or salad burnet, this group is native to central Europe and northern Asia. There are at least 12 species in this group, and it is from Pimpinellifoliae that we have most of our yellow roses. Several creams, pinks, and whites can also be found, however. As a group, their growth varies in height from 3 - 12 ft. (1 - 4 m), and their blooms are single, profuse and born on short, very prickly stems. As a rule, these roses are once-blooming, although some hybrids can produce a second flush where growing seasons are long. Popular landscape roses include R. foetida and R. f. persiana ('Austrian Yellow') because it is reportedly from these roses that all of our modern yellow roses came, and R. foetida bicolor ('Austrian Copper') because of its dazzling copper-orange blooms. The latter sometimes reverts to its yellow parent, and both yellow and copper blooms can be found on the same shrub. (Editor: these are real blackspot magnets here!) Another rose in this group worth mentioning is R. omeiensis, the only four-petalled rose.  (One that is available locally is R. xanthina, a very nice yellow rose with nice fall color.) Modern rose groupings are the Austrian Briars, Burnet and Scotch Roses.


Sometimes called the French Roses, this group was actually native to most of Europe and modern day Turkey and Iraq. Arguably, Gallicas have had the most influence on the evolution of modern roses and are noted for their scent and multiple petals. They commonly grow from 3 - 6 ft. (1 - 2 m), their landscape form varies from erect to grandly arching. Foliage is composed of five leaflets, as are most of our modern roses. Blooms are multi-petalled and form either singly or in groups of threes or fours on comparatively long stems. Although most of the early roses are once-blooming, some of the hybrids and modern descendants are remontant. Popular landscape roses include R. gallica officinalis ('The Apothecary's Rose') because of its historical significance as a rose that retained its scent over a long period and was highly valued by early European apothecaries, R. x. damascena bifera ('Autumn Damask' or Quatre Saisons') because it was reportedly the first remontant rose to be introduced to Europeans. Modern rose garden groupings in Gallicanae are the Gallicas, Centifolias, Mosses, Damasks and Portlands.


So named because their hooked prickles reportedly resembled the teeth of canines, these roses are native to Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. Foliage tends to be medium in size and contains seven to nine leaflets. Blooms are formed in small clusters and the subsequent hips are large and oval. Growth habit is varied from erect to arching, from 2 - 12 ft. (.5 - 3.5 m). Many of the Dog Roses found in the wild today are the remnants of dead hybrid roses which were grafted onto R. canina root stocks several decades ago. In some locations, they are considered a pest weed. Modern rose garden groups are the Sweetbriars, Dog Rose and Albas.


Named after the Carolinas in the United States, these roses are native to the U.S and Canada. In all seven species within this group, growth is short, by rose standards, but upright. The very hooked prickles which proliferate on the stems are frequently paired. Leaves are composed of 7 - 9 leaflets, and produce a beautiful autumnal display. For the most part, these roses have no popular gardening hybrids, but are frequently seen in native landscapes.  R. virginiana is in this group.

Cinnamonae (=Cassiorhodon)

This very large group is native to North America, eastern Europe and Asia. Interestingly, species native to North America and Europe are pink while the species native to Asia are purple, red and white. Their size varies from 3 - 12 ft. (1 - 4m), growing erect for the most part. The fall display of hips is the most notable characteristic of this group. For the most part, these roses are non-remontant. A few of their hybrids do repeat bloom, however. Modern garden groups are the Rugosas, Kordes and Moyesiis, the latter of which is most noted for its flaggon-shaped hips - some as large as your thumb. (Editor: of interest to us in this group are two native roses, R. nutkana and R. gymnocarpa, the popular freeway rugosas and local favorite R. glauca.)


This group got its name from the Greek for "fused pillars" - an apparent reference to the way the styles are formed at the center of the flower. The species belonging to this group are chiefly from Asia, although native specimens can also be found throughout Europe and portions of eastern North America. The group is noted for its vigorous climbers, multitude of blooms and robust growth habits. The most popular specimens for this group are R. moschata ('The Musk Rose') for its historical significance as well as its fragrance, and R. multiflora for its vigorous climbing ability and floriferous bloom. In central and eastern portions of the United States, however, the latter is considered a pest weed. (and a harbor for Rose Rosette Disease.) The real significance of this group is that they are the progenitors of our modern garden groups of Musks and Hybrid Musks, Modern Shrubs, Polyanthas, Floribundas and modern climbing and rambling roses.

Chinensis (= Indicae)

(somewhat tender hereóEd.) This rose grouping single-handedly set modern rosedom on its nose! It is from this group that all red roses and all repeat-blooming roses have descended. Growth of these roses varies in all forms; however, they are usually upright is growth pattern and range in size from 3 - 10 ft. (1 - 7 m). Leaflets vary from five to seven per leaf, flowers form in small clusters, and hips are round. Colors range from all the rose shades - pink, white, purple and red. The two primary roses in the Species group are Rosa chinensis or 'China Rose' and R. gigantea.  (Ed.:  What we call R. chinensis is actually an ancient garden hybrid or sport, which potentially dates to the Han Dynasty, roughly 140 B.C., and which is called 'Yue Yue Hong', or Monthly Crimson, in China.  True wild R. chinensis is a once-blooming climber, according to Graham Stuart Thomas.) Also, included in this group are R.x. borboniana the progenitor of the Bourbons and R. x. odorata, the 'Tea-scented China'.  One rose, 'The Green Rose' (R. viridiflora) is a popular curiosity grown by many floral suppliers and rosarians interested in a "conversation piece."  It's called 'Lu E', or Green Calyx, in China. Modern rose groupings are the Bourbons, Chinas, Hybrid Perpetuals, Noisettes, Teas, Hybrid Teas and Climbing Hybrid Teas.


Members of this group are vigorous climbers, growing easily to 20 ft. (7 m). What makes them fun to use in landscaping is their relative lack of prickles. Although flowers - usually white or yellow - are small, they form large clusters. The group is distinctive in that it contains only four Species roses, originally named after the wife of Sir Joseph Banks, Curator for The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew around 1807. Although their origin is from China, they were introduced to the West from 1807 to 1870. The most popular are R. banksia alba plena ('White Lady Banksia') and R. banksia lutea ('Yellow Lady Banksia'). As a piece of rose trivia, the largest rose in the world is a 'Yellow Lady Banksia' which covers some 8000 sq. ft. Itís in Arizona.


This grouping is composed of only one Species rose and some of its hybrid offspring. So named for its smooth foliage, R. laevigata or 'Cherokee Rose' was originally discovered off the east coast of China in 1759, but later introduced to North America and allowed to naturalize. Blooms are white, large and borne singly on stems with very large, hooked prickles. If left to its own desires, this rose will easily grow to 20 ft. (7 m) and spread to form a dense thicket. Near the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, hybrids of this rose were created to add color to the bloom. These include 'Anemone Rose' (a pink), 'Cooper's Burmese' (a cream white) and 'Red Cherokee' (a light red).


This group is a group of one, R. bracteata or 'The Macartney Rose', introduced from China in 1793. It is a huge rose, growing easily 30 ft. (9 m) in all directions, and characterized by very hooked prickles that proliferate up the stem. The species was allowed to naturalize in North America during the mid-18th century, and has been considered a native rose since that time. Its most popular hybrid is 'Mermaid'. (Editor: Mermaid has thorns like fishhooks and could be used as living razor wire. A bit too tender for us Iíd think.  HelpMeFind has a note for 'Mermaid' that it grows well enough in Victoria, BC, but Vancouver, just across the Strait of Georgia, is too cold.  So it would be borderline at best here in Olympia. I once worked with a single specimen that was a good 10ft tall and 20ft across and ripped my jacket to absolute shreds while I was trying to prune it. Good thing I was wearing a thick jacket! Had to use a chainsaw and pole pruner, and buy a new jacket when done. Beautiful, fragrant flowers though)


Another one-species rose group containing R. roxburghii ('The Chestnut Rose', or 'Hehua Qiangwei' in China) and its hybrids. The rose is sometimes used in landscaping for its unusual foliage (small leaflets in groups of 11 - 15) and prickly hips. The single blooms are large and blush pink, although one hybrid (R. roxburgii normalis) is white. R. roxburghii plena has double flowers, but retains the blush pink coloration.


This group is indigenous to the western coast of North America (California and northwestern Mexico), and contains only two species, R. stellata and R. stellata mirifica or 'The Sacremento Rose' - both of which are lilac-pink in color and singles. They are not particularly good for landscaping except in natural settings where Nature has helped by bringing one or two into the garden.

PNW Local Native Roses

There are a few rose species native to Western Washington. None ever seem to be mentioned in rose books but only in PNW native plant books.  Our native roses often grow in wet areas, and they have straight thorns.  The most common one in my rural property is Rosa gymnocarpa, the bald-hip rose. Teeny tiny pink flowers in spring, equally tiny red hips fall and winter.  The hips have no sepals (hence 'bald hip rose' and the stems can be covered with tiny, hair-like thorns.  They still hurt when you grab the plant. Shade tolerant, grows in woodsy areas, in fact it doesnít like full sun.  Not recommended to eat the hips - too tiny, and hairy inside. The most common wild rose overall is R. nutkana or Nootka rose. A much larger plant, with large pink flowers in spring and purplish hips fall and winter. This one can be eaten, but best processed into jam or tea or something as it still has the hairs around the seeds.  I've seen it in areas where it gets mowed as part of Scotch broom control, and it grows and blooms as a creeping woody groundcover in these cases.  Wet areas also have R. pisocarpa, the cluster flowered rose.  Looks a lot like Nootka, but the flowers appear in clusters, and the hips are bright red, smaller and pear-shaped.  All three give nice fall color, especially when growing mixed with snowberry.   R. canina and R. eglanteria, both European species, are naturalized here, but are easily distinguished from the natives by preferring dry soil, and having curved thorns.  R. rugosa, from Japan and northern China, is widely planted in unmaintained areas, but I have yet to see it naturalizing.  It is naturalized in Alaska and Maine, so it may just be a matter of time here.  I did find a group of three rugosas at the very far end of Damon Point on Grays Harbor; probably naturalized.

A widespread but not numerous naturalized rose in rural areas is R. canina, the dog rose, a European native. Many fencerows surrounding pastures in rural northwestern Thurston County have it. Large clusters of white flowers in spring on a large, arching plant growing mixed in with the Nootka rose, blackberry and snowberry. Very pretty in bloom, and in fall itís a fountain of bright gold with elongated red hips all along the long arching canes. Similar fall show to the freeway rugosas, but much more graceful. Iím presuming itís being spread by birds dropping seeds, from its position in fencerows.


Roses for Fall Color

Most roses don't give very good fall color.  As noted above, our locally native roses have good color, R. pisocarpa in particular.  R. xanthina and R. glauca both give a good show of fall color, and are reasonably easily available here.  R. virginiana, from the eastern states, is known for very good fall color, in red, orange and yellow.  It is being used by Oregon hybridizer Paul Barden to introduce fall color to the rose garden.  R. spinosissima aka pimpinellifolia has nice red foliage.  'Morlettii', a deep pink Boursault, also has very good red fall color.  The rugosas have decent color in fall, with yellow leaves and red hips.  The pink rugosa hybrid 'Martin Frobisher' has orange fall color.

Fall color in roses often comes from the hips.  Rugosas are well known for setting good hips, almost as large as cherry tomatoes.  Some hybrid rugosas, however, don't set hips, like 'Roseraie de l'Haye'.  Selections and hybrids of R. moyesii have stunning hips - large and flask-shaped.  Three that are particularly good for landscaping are 'Highdownensis', 'Hillieri', and 'Autumn Fire'.  R. canina and eglanteria have elongated hips that range from orange to red.  Would you  believe a rose with black hips? that would be R. spinosissima, aka pimpinellifolia.  'Kiftsgate', a large, white, fragrant, tree-climbing rose, has sprays of small red hips.  And our native Nootka rose has large purplish red hips.


© 2008,  The Olympia Rose Society . This page last modified:  Saturday, November 12, 2011