The sight and fragrance of hundreds of wild roses were a true delight during hikes along Calgary’s Douglas Fir Trail this weekend. Nothing beats their heavenly scent, nor the joy of watching bees gathering pollen from the open flowers. There’s just something so simply elegant about these tough beauties, some sort of expressive vitality that the hybridized roses don’t have (but don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy for the hybrids, too).
Alberta’s provincial flower (chosen in 1930) is the prickly (syn. wild or Arctic) rose, Rosa acicularis. It’s a thorny, rambling shrub that can grow up to 2 metres tall and wide, producing single, five-petalled deep pink flowers between May and August. In the autumn, plants produce bright red hips, chockful of vitamin C and highly suitable for delicious preserves and tea.
Rosa woodsii, or the common (syn. mountain or woods) rose, is also found in Alberta, in the same habitat as the prickly rose. At a glance, it’s difficult to tell the two apart, and indeed, they will often hybridize. Rosa woodsii is usually a denser, bushier specimen, and it usually grows up to 1.5 metres tall, with a similar spread. Often, you’ll find Rosa woodsii available for sale in garden centres (certain places will also sell Rosa acicularis) – please purchase them if you want them in your garden, don’t take cuttings from the wild! Be aware that wild roses don’t have any proper manners – they’re unruly, and spread quite aggressively via underground rhizomes. (There’s a reason most gardeners grow the well-behaved hybridized rose breeds). Massive amounts of time and labour are required to prune wild roses and keep them under control in a formalized setting. Given sufficient space in a naturalized or woodland garden, however, wild roses can be a beautiful addition. They’re also often used to control erosion on dry slopes, as they’re not picky about soil type or fertility and are extremely drought tolerant. As well, they grow quickly and can live up to twenty years.
Stop and smell the (wild) roses!