Snow and Roses

By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

Winter arrived in the Ozarks with an incredible 12” of snow and temperatures in the teens for much of the week.  We stayed busy indoors for most of that time, but Dean and I are not the kind of people who find it easy to sit around the shack all day.  So, when it warmed up a bit we  found ourselves trudging around in our heavy winter pants and boots looking for something constructive to do outdoors.  We finally decided to clear a path through the thick brush and brambles to the east pond.

We have been talking about clearing this path for some time, but wading into the chest deep thorns and spines of wild roses, blackberry brambles and the prickly needles of red cedar saplings did not seem very appealing during the heat of summer.  But armed as we were by our heavy winter clothes and boots, today seemed ideal for the task – despite the snow.  Armed with shovels and rakes and a pair of heavy pruning shears, we set ourselves to work beginning with the roses.

These are not your garden variety roses and they’re definitely not native.  Rather, they are an invasive species of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora), which is one of the most formidable plants that I have ever encountered in the wild. Multiflora roses can grow so large that they easily overrun and smother many kinds of native plants, including small trees, shrubs, and the much more diminutive native rose.

Multiflora roses were first brought to America in the 1700’s and used as hearty root stock for cultivated rose varieties.  Then, in the 1930’s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service began advocating their use for preventing soil erosion.  As recently as 1960,  rooted cuttings of multiflora rose were being distributed by state conservation offices for use as living fences and erosion prevention.  Obviously, the roses did work as preventative measures against erosion, but they were also highly invasive and quickly grew out of control.  In 1983, Missouri designated multiflora roses as a noxious weed.

Today, some 83 years later, landowners and conservationists are still battling with a highly invasive and persistent non-native species that smothers native plants, trees and shrubs and competes for – and wins – ground in which the more diminutive native roses prefer.

2012 4-20 Multiflora Rose Bush (8)It is not uncommon to find mature multiflora roses that have woven themselves so thoroughly in and around trees that the trunks are completely obscured by the thick, spiny canes.  If no tree or other support is nearby, multiflora roses will become a dense and tangled shrub whose long, arching canes can create a treacherous thicket of piercing, stinging thorns.

Although multiflora roses do produce nutrient rich rose hips relished by birds, squirrels, deer, rabbits and humans, the native roses produce them as well and do so without being nearly as aggressive or invasive.

But before you set out to eradicate multiflora roses, make sure that what you are removing is, indeed, a multiflora and not the native species, which needs protection.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation:

“Multiflora rose can be distinguished from Missouri’s native roses by the presence of a feathery or comb-like margin on the narrow stipules [a green, leaf like structure found at the base of each leaf stalk].  Missouri’s native rose species all have stipules at the base of the leaf stalk, but their stipules do not have feathery margins. Multiflora rose can also be distinguished from most native roses by the fact that its styles are fused together into a column. All of the native roses except Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera), have separate styles. Multiflora rose should be accurately identified before attempting any control measures.”

Dean and I clearly identified the multiflora roses growing around the east pond and in several areas on the edge of our woods.  We knew that we didn’t want to use chemical herbicides to deal with the roses, so we had to do it the good, old-fashioned way.

We worked for hours carefully cutting our way through the extravagant growth of last year’s relatively moist summer.   Some of the canes were as big around as my thumb and upwards of 6 feet long.  Some had climbed high into the tree branches over our heads, while others wove themselves into an impenetrable mesh of bristling thorns 8 feet wide.

As the piles of desiccated canes  grew, we drug them over the snow to The Pit – a large, rectangular hole in the ground where we burn brush and leaves.   Once the canes were out of the way and the snow began to melt in earnest, we would return and dig out the roots while the soil was still moist and easy to dig.

For many landowners, eradicating invasive multiflora rose is an ongoing battle.  And except for soaking wet feet and a vicious thorn stab on my wrist that burned all afternoon, I think we won this one.

(Excerpted in part from A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country)

© 2013 Jill Henderson – Feel free to share with a link back to this site.  Thanks.


AJOS-214x328[1]Excerpted in part from the book:
A Journey of Seasons
A Year in the Ozarks High Country

Set in the rugged heart of the Ozark mountains, A Journey of Seasons is memoir, back-to-the-land handbook and nature guide rolled into one.  Henderson’s 20-years of living off the land and foraging in the wilderness shines in this cyclopedic work filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor.  This is one journey you don’t want to miss.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.


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4 responses to “Snow and Roses

  1. Oh, I have many memories of pulling these roses down from trees ~ how those long fronds swing round behind to grab your clothes as if saying “nooooooo”! Creek-side where I used to live many of them had also been affected by a virus which continued the killing process quite effectively once I’d cut them back. It’s called Witches’-broom (and really looked like that), caused by rose rosette: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/diseases/viruses/rose-rosette.aspx . Great working outside in winter isn’t it?

    • Thanks, Sara! It is wonderful working outside in winter! It gets the blood pumping and stretches those underused muscles! I have seen witches’ broom on roses, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so thanks for the link! I also still don’t know why multiflora thorn pricks hurt so much – it’s like they are covered with a natural chemical produced by the plant for defense. Do you know anything about that?

  2. do you know if this is the same plant that we called “Cherokee rose” that grows here in the deep South? My LA wildflower book lists it as Rosa laevigata Michx. and indicates it is a native of China. They have murderous recurved thorns!
    g.ruth

    • Good question, Mom. I had to look it up. The Cherokee rose is not a multiflora, but are both escaped, non-native invasives. According to a page from Mississippi State University the differences are as follows:

      A few rose species are native to the Mid-South, but some are introduced. Native rose species, like Rosa carolina L., have pink flowers, but most non-native roses have white. Four of the more common escaped roses include Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata Michx.), Macartney Rose (Rosa bracteata Wendland), memorial rose (Rosa wichuraiana Crepin), and multiflora rose. …Cherokee and Macartney roses have solitary (not clustered) white flowers solitary with five petals. Memo-rial and multiflora roses are both in clusters (Fig. 1), but the memorial rose is pinkish and typically double petaled (many petals) while the typical multiflora rose is white and single petaled (Fig. 1). Some cultivated multiflora rose variants are similar to the memorial rose in flower. Rosa multiflora var. cathayensis Reyd. & Wils. is pink and cultivar ‘Platyphylla’ is double pink. But they can be distinquished by form since multiflora rose is an upright, arching shrub and the memorial rose is trailing. Rosa multiflora ‘Inermis’ is thornless. These variants of multiflora rose are uncommon. Forma watsoniana [Rosa multiflora Thunb. ex Murr. f. watsoniana (Crep.) Matsum] probably does not occur in the southeastern U.S.

      You can see pictures and read more about the differences between the invasive rose species here: http://www.gri.msstate.edu/ipams/FactSheets/Multiflora_rose.pdf

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