Wild, Wicked–But Not Native: Rosa Multiflora

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Roses
25 comments

There comes a time in every gardener’s life when she realizes that a plant she has admired is not all it seems to be. Whatever the initial attraction, another side of the plant is discovered, and the gardener decides the relationship must end. I met Rosa multiflora through his fragrance. At this time of the year, the sweet rose fragrance drifts on the air, strong enough to make you hike up into the field until you track it down to a rather unassuming cluster of flowers.

Multiflora rose invasive but fragrant

C’mon, what could this modest little thing do?

Then you look around you, and you realize the field is full of these baby shrubs. And they’re not all babies. There are a few octopus-like giants as well, rooting down at the tip of their arching canes, producing impenetrable thickets.

Former Farm Aid

According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England, “From 1930 to 1960 the U.S. Soil Conservation Service advocated its use as a component of living fences and erosion control plans.” If you drive around rural upstate New York this time of year, the rolling hills appear dotted with mashed potatoes served up by a giant’s cafeteria, the rounded forms of mature, ten-to-twelve foot tall multiflora shrubs. All a farmer has to do is turn his back for a year or two, and he’s got a big problem. Do an online search for how to remove rose from pasture and read a couple of entries. I have a friend whose husband grew up on a farm, and he refuses to have roses growing on their property, he has such bitter memories of battling this rose as a kid. To him, a rose is a plant that takes over.

Multiflora rose hips - food for birds and good in dried arrangements

Birds love the hips of multiflora rose.

It’s a pity he paints all roses with the same broad brush, but this rose does take over. Birds, especially mockingbirds, robins, and cedar waxwings, love the seeds, which can remain viable in the soil for ten to twenty years. A single shrub can produce 500,000 seeds. And when this rose can’t spread out, it will grow up. We have a brushy area by the back corner of the house. I really don’t know why the previous owners didn’t mow this area, but it’s composed of various shrubs and small trees, most of which produce berries that birds eat. There is a multiflora rose in there, but you have to stand way back to see it.
Multiflora rose climbing high

It is growing up through the rest of this brush and blooming on top of it all. This multiflora rose grows higher than the first floor of a house. That elderberry at the bottom of the page is six feet tall.

The stem at the base of this thing is thicker around than a broomstick. I will get a reciprocating saw and cut it at the base, then keep pruning off the shoots that come up. Eventually I’ll kill it, but that’s only one, and it’s all over our acreage and that of our neighbors.

That’s It. It’s Over.

I’m a little embarrassed to confess that, despite knowing these facts about this rose, I still harbored a fondness for it. That fragrance wafting on the air–I could forgive a lot for that sweet perfume. But then I learned that multiflora rose is host to a mite that transmits Rose Rosette Disease, a virus that first distorts and then kills rose shrubs, not just the multiflora rose but expensive garden roses, too.

A multiflora rose affected with rose rosette disease.

A multiflora rose affected with rose rosette disease. It’s not pretty.

This disease is fatal to the roses it infects and there is no cure. Not only does the fragrance of multiflora rose waft on the air, but those mites do, too. The best way to protect the roses in your garden is to remove the multiflora roses that are providing a home to that virus-carrying mite. That does it. It’s over. Rosa multiflora must go!

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogasphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment. It bursts upon a man every year…as though it had never happened before, but had just been shown by God how to do it, and tried, and found the impossible possible.

~Ellis Peters in The Summer of the Danes

25 Comments… add one

Les July 19, 2014, 7:37 am

We have successfully removed all of this rose from the botanical garden where I work. Now we have our sights set on trying to rid it from some of the surrounding land at the airport and on city property. All this in an effort to keep rosette disease to a minimum.

Frank July 13, 2014, 11:22 pm

I can’t imagine tackling a field of them. I have a few in my “meadow” which are just waiting for me to miss a mowing before they explode into growth.
But…. this spring I noticed the scent coming up from the woods more than ever. I think there are just as many roses as ever, but the breeze was always perfumed with rose and I admit I liked it!
We will see what happens with the rose rosette, I saw it on a few local plants this and last year.

Gardening Northside July 11, 2014, 5:45 am

Yes mowing could help you out, get out of it as soon as possible.

Ranbir Chawla July 2, 2014, 4:52 pm

We have many varieties of wild roses in our pastures here @ 6000ft in Colorado. We raise sheep and our ewes LOVE roses, eat them first right along with the sage. The roses recover, but it does keep them in check.
Maybe you can find a neighbor with some sheep or goats to help out with a temporary fence etc… the lamb tastes great too :-)

Kathy Purdy July 2, 2014, 8:26 pm

I had read that goats like the roses; it doesn’t surprise me that sheep like them as well. Thank you for commenting, Ranbir.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern June 30, 2014, 7:47 am

Oh, unbelievable a plant that takes over that I DON’T have … thought I had them all but I am so happy to say I do not have this one. I planted two roses on this property – both native – swamp rose and prairie rose – both I think may rival that multiflora. They are abundant, wild and beautiful – fragrant, too. I purchased through Prairie Moon and Brushwood Nursery.

Kathy Purdy June 30, 2014, 9:24 am

Thanks, Kathy. Good to know sources of these native roses. The native rose I have is mildly fragrant–you can smell it if you stick your nose right in it–but the scent of the multiflora carries far. Perhaps there are different variants of the native rose.

Donna@GardensEyeView June 28, 2014, 8:18 pm

Kathy I find this in my meadow and garden every year and every year I yank it out. In its place I have planted the native swamp rose which has the most amazing scent and lovely pink flowers.

Kathy Purdy June 28, 2014, 9:43 pm

I think I have that same swamp rose. Did you buy yours, or get some from a different spot on your property?

Gardening Tips June 27, 2014, 12:24 am

I am glad I stumbled upon your site. A very informative read about Rosa Multifloras. Thanks Kathy.

Carol June 26, 2014, 8:24 pm

Kathy, you are right, the multiflora rose has to go. But what a thorny job that will be for someone! Good luck.

doreen June 26, 2014, 9:40 am

Thank you for this very timely post! I was about 3 days away from taking a “snip” from the beautiful, wonderful smelling roses lining our country road and putting it in my newly planted butterfly garden! PHEW!

Donalyn@TheCreeksideCook June 26, 2014, 7:48 am

I’m giggling over Larry’s unknowing mention here – he will get a kick out of it! Out here, you don’t have to turn your back for a couple years – a couple months will do it. When I hurt my knee last summer, all weeding ceased till this spring and I found a whole crop of these little buggers under the crab apple tree – transported by birds I have no doubt. They haven’t given up yet either.

Kathy Purdy June 26, 2014, 9:27 am

I’m glad you found that amusing. I was being generous with my time estimate, as I think you’d have to quit mowing a field for a year or two before they’d be big enough that someone driving by could see them from the road.

John In Belmont June 26, 2014, 7:20 am

There is a theory that rosa multiflora is spreading the rose rosette virus throughout the southeast US. I lost dozens of roses to the virus over several years. It finally disappeared when a feral rosa multiflora was removed from and empty field across from my property. Hate the plant.

Kathy Purdy June 26, 2014, 9:25 am

I would say it is more than a theory at this point. One of the articles I read doing research for this post said scientists had confirmed their hypothesis that it was the mite that transmitted the virus, and the multiflora rose had both the mite and the virus.

Louise June 26, 2014, 5:37 am

I discover new weeds each spring, and wondered what had happened to one of my shrub roses. Thanks for the post. What should I plant in it’s place?

I now love scented knock out roses for the simple joy they bring. Do they also have an invasive side?

Kathy Purdy June 26, 2014, 9:22 am

According the information I read, you can plant another rose where the first one died, provided all the roots from the old one are removed. You might want to wait one season to make sure the diseased rose doesn’t try to grow back from roots left in the ground. The disease can’t remain in the soil; it has to be in the rose or in the mite. Knock Outs are not invasive but they are often planted in groups. When roses (any kind) are planted in groups, it makes them more vulnerable to rose rosette because it is easier for the mite to move from one rose to another, transmitting the disease as it goes.

Rodrica June 26, 2014, 3:28 am

Goats will eat it to the ground repeatedly…not practical for everyone, but possible for some on acreage.

Kathy Purdy June 26, 2014, 9:18 am

You are right, Rodrica, when we had goats they kept their pasture clear of multiflora rose. It was also mentioned as a solution in at least one of the articles I alluded to on removing the rose from pasture. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Charlie@Seattle Trekker June 25, 2014, 11:53 pm

My neighbor on the other side of the fence from my garden raises a whole patch of thriving invasive weeds. When you have to battle that it does change your perspective.

Sally June 25, 2014, 8:20 pm

We humans sure have made a mess of things. Although we don’t have the rose problem, I’ve seen them in a lot of fields. I’m so glad I didn’t decide to transplant one in my yard!

Felicia June 25, 2014, 7:40 pm

thanks for the info. I knew they were invasive but didn’t know the other facts about this bush.

Alana June 25, 2014, 4:06 pm

We have so many invasive plants here in the Binghamton area – the roses, the Russian olives, the crownvetch, the garlic mustard, the giant hogweed. It is discouraging – I visited my mother in law downstate last week and found lots of rugosa roses all over her suburban property, including growing up a telephone pole. One rose plant was smothering a mountain laurel plant. What a shame!

Hannah June 25, 2014, 2:28 pm

Your rose problem seems a lot like our problem with the non-native Himalayan blackberry, which really takes over and also tip roots, and can get 3o’tall, growing up into the trees. I wish you well getting rid of the rose, the most effective method we have found is mowing.

Leave a Comment