A rose that is not loved?

Sunday, July 3, 2005

The small white, sometimes pinkish, blossoms of wild multiflora roses, now past, made the plants almost likable. For the rest of the summer, though, the plants will push their murderously thorny stems skyward and outward, seemingly not content until they have engulfed the whole planet.

Multiflora rose grows in so many places that it seems native. It's not. The plants arrived from Asia a century ago and were planted as windbreaks, as decorative crash barriers for highway median strips, and for erosion control. Used as living fences to corral animals, the rose was described as "horse high, bull strong, and goat tight."

In time, multiflora roses started turning up everywhere as uninvited guests. Wild animals loved the food and shelter provided by the thorny canes.

Multiflora rose has, admittedly, been generous with its good genes. This rose laughs off cold and you won't find its stems, leaves, or flowers sullied by black spot, powdery mildew, rose midge, or any of the other ills that plague those hybrid tea roses in your backyard. Multiflora rose is also a prolific bloomer, yielding clusters of three dozen or more blooms. The plant even blooms in partial shade.

One botanical variety sports double pink blossoms and was grown by the Empress Josephine in her famous rose garden at Malmaison.

With its long canes, reaching up to 12 feet, multiflora rose would be expected to be in the bloodline of climbing roses -- and it is. First came the variety Dawson, in 1888, but the real breakthrough came a few years later, in 1893, when multiflora rose mated with a dwarf China rose to produce Crimson Rambler. Crimson Rambler was the first of many so-called rambling roses that you now see trained along split rail fences.

For the past hundred-plus years, the name multiflora rose has been popping up among the branches of the family trees of many notable roses, such as Trier, Evangeline, and the ever-popular American Pillar.

Multiflora rose even helps along weaker members of its race by being used as a vigorous rootstock upon which to graft other rose varieties.

Multiflora rose is a plant to keep an eye on. Admire the blossoms, but also glance at neglected corners of your property where you'll likely find multiflora rose seedlings trying to grow.

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