Article and photo by Donna Iverson
When it comes to gardens, I prefer the informal over the formal, native plants over hybrids, those that are drought resistant, pollinator friendly, smell sweet, and are easy to grow. If they are edible, that’s a plus too.
Rosa rugosa ticks off all of those boxes except one..native plant. But it is a naturalized rose, arriving in Nantucket from Japan in 1845. During the next fifty years, it spread rapidly all over New England and especially along the coast as it tolerated sandy soil and salty ocean spray.
Today, this shrub rose is naturalized in Michigan and other Great Lake's states where it is especially valued for landscape planting. You would be forgiven for thinking it was a native plant. It tolerates west Michigan’s sandy poor soil, where it helps stabilize dunes along our coast. It can be found in waste places, along roadsides and right-of-ways where birds and animals have dropped their seeds.
Unlike hybridized roses, it still has a strong sweet rose scent with flowers that range in color from pure white to rose-lavender. It grows to about four to eight feet high and four to six feet wide and makes an excellent thorny hedge. It’s deciduous leaves stay green during the winter.
If you don’t deadhead the flowers, bright orange-red hips will appear in the fall and these can be picked and turned into jam or rose hip tea.
Best planted in the spring or fall, it is quick growing and low maintenance and pruning is unnecessary. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade in the poorest soil. So if you have always wanted to grow rose plants, Rosa rugosa would be a good place to start as it does not require any special gardening skills.
And of course, it is loved by pollinating insects, birds and butterflies. Rosa rugosa will bloom all summer from June to August and will provide many years of gardening pleasure.