April 30, 2012

Do you have multiflora rose on your farm? We do. It grows down in the hollow near our pond. Sometimes Mom takes Uzzi and me down to to the hollow to browse, and we love nibbling multiflora rose petals. Yum! But we have to be careful because the bushes have big, wicked, recurved thorns (ow!), and we can only eat from the outside part because the thicket is too dense to push through.

Multiflora rose grows in 39 of the continental U.S. states. It’s considered a noxious weed in 12 states, where it must be controlled, and it’s totally banned in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. That’s because it grows like a weed and chokes out native vegetation. And it’s so darned hard to control!

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Multiflora rose came from Japan in 1866 to be used as rootstock for ornamental roses, and that was OK. In the 1930s through the 1960s, it was widely planted for erosion control, as wildlife feed, in median strips of highways to form crash barriers, and as living fences. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service passed out rooted cuttings to landowners for free. Fourteen million cuttings were planted in West Virginia alone and 20 million in North Carolina. That was before anyone realized how fast and prolifically it spread. Then the plant took off. Oh my!

Multiflora rose is a thorny perennial shrub that grows up to 15 feet tall and spreads widely to all sides. It has long, arching canes that act as suckers, rooting wherever they touch the ground. And it propagates by seeds, too. Each spring, multiflora rose bushes are covered with clusters of teeny, five-petaled, white roses just 1/2 to 1 inch across. When the flower matures, it becomes a small, hard fruit called a rose hip that grows leathery come fall and usually stays on the plant all winter—unless a hungry bird comes along and snurfs it up. Up to 17,500 seeds come from a single cane every year, and they remain viable for up to 20 years. When birds eat the seeds, they go through the bird intact (in fact, this helps them germinate), so wherever the bird poops them out, a brand new shrub can grow.

However, not every wild rose you see is a multiflora rose. There are dozens of native wild rose species in North America. Most of the others have pink, five-petaled flowers and few are as thorny as multiflora rose.

Multiflora roses are stubborn—once they become comfy on your farm they don’t want to leave. So if it sets up housekeeping on your farm, try to control it from the beginning. Ask your county extension agent for tips.

The best thing about multiflora rose is that it makes fine wild bird feed through the cold winter months. People like those rose hips, too. You can crush them to make rose hip tea. And multiflora rose petals are yummy in salad!

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