Monday, July 1, 2013

In Defence of Rosa Multiflora

R. multiflora "inermis" background on porch, 2011
(not recommended for US gardens)

In the United States, the non-native species rose, Rosa multiflora has been kicked, burned, axed, nipped in the bud, bull-dozed over, poisoned and verbally abused by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, as well as by gardeners in locations where it seems to flourish. Is the wildness of its ways the fault of the plant or the fault of those who planted it en masse along Missouri's highways in the 1950s without foresight and left it to grow untended?

Years ago, one of my father's more refined roses, probably a tea or floribunda, reverted to its Rosa multiflora rootstock. In this case, it is the thornless (nearly) species, Rosa multiflora inermis. He was a good rosarian, my dad, but sometimes these little freaks of nature happen when plants are being manipulated (grafted) or poorly grafted. He left the rose growing by the side of the house for a few years, and grow it did, into a beautiful, big, scented mound that stopped pedestrians and slowed traffic. My father hated "the thing." In his view, it was unrefined, too wild, too big, and it was damaging his fence. He was getting rid of it. I begged cuttings, but at that time, I didn't trust my know-how.  He cut it down severely one year and planted six cuttings in a protected area of his garden, and to my joy, they all took.

   R. multiflora "inermis", same porch, 2012
  I waited until after it bloomed to cut it back

I originally planted them around a terraced hilltop, but they don't thrive there. They didn't become vigorous like his. They grew to a few feet and that was that. It was a bad location, very dry with strong west winds. After building the long porch, I needed something growing up the posts, so I dug up one of the multifloras and moved it to side of the steps. There is no eavestroughing along the porch roof, so all the water drips into the border in front.

The rose gained a few feet the first year, a few more by the second, and by the third year, I was using a long ladder to tie the canes into the balcony and along the porch roof.  In my zone 5b garden, it grew to 25 feet by the 4th season in this location. Any American gardeners reading this will probably think I'm nuts nurturing this rose, but I love it, and it's not considered invasive in Canada. I also have a sentimental attachment to it because my father, the bearer of the gift, is gone now. And even though he hated the rose, he took the care to please his daughter who loved it. I treasure it above all other roses in my garden.

I know there are many more-refined roses that have a similar nature to R. multiflora, like the cultivars Rambling Rector, Kiftsgate, Paul's Himalayan Musk, R. Mulligani and R. longicuspis, but they aren't as hardy in my location to ensure I'd get the height I look for.

I've since learned the best way to propagate this species is by seed, not by stem cuttings. Stem cuttings may carry viruses. And being a species rose, seed propagation results with plants that are true to form. I've had luck with both seed propagation and cuttings.

Rosa multiflora has a very strong spicy scent and vigorous growth to 20 or 30 feet in the right environment. It just finished blooming in my garden and the scent on my porch was intoxicating and exotic. Rosa multiflora gets it strong spicy scent from its stamens rather than the blooms' petals. But from my own experience, it also gets it from the ends of new growth from its unfurled leaves. I'm so impatient for the scent in early spring, I gently touch an end and it releases its fragrance onto my fingers. Long after the blooms are spent, the scent is still there on the tips of new growth.

For Canadian gardeners in zones 4 or higher, this is a rose to treasure as both a climber and a stand-alone specimen in the lawn where its long arching branches can be left to layer themselves one on top of the other.

The multiflora rose is most often used as rootstock for all those modern hybrids found lined up in neat little rows in garden centres. And every once in a while, the rootstock wins. The rose reverts to its rootstock and the gardener is blessed with a non-fussy rose with small white blossoms in large clusters. But it's also possible to purchase rosa multiflora from Canadian mail-order rose nurseries. Propagation from cuttings and seeds has great results. Hence all the bother with the rose "taking over." I have not had that issue on my Canadian fifty acres. It grows only where I've planted it in and around my garden.

As a root stock, it is especially useful for creating rambling roses and many of the most beautiful ramblers gardeners enjoy have R. Multiflora as either parentage or as its rootstock. Gardeners treasure it for its simple elegance and vigor5 feet per season.

Keep it in Check

~ Given its invasive nature in the US and being close to Lake Ontario and border, I remove most of the spent blooms so there are fewer hips in fall for the birds to take away. It's a small point, but it can't hurt.

~ R. multiflora blooms on the previous years growth, so it's important to only cut back older canes in fall.

~ If you cut it back more severely every 2nd or 3rd year, the plant will be less bushy. A few canes is all you need if you want it to rise over an arbor or up a porch post.

~ While it's not considered invasive here in Canada, it's probably a good idea to watch for accidental layering. I haven't noticed it with mine, but given that in higher US hardiness zones, it's not just the high germination percentage of the seeds that created its invasive nature; it can spread via accidental layering and via root sprouts. I'm assuming it's the climate factor.


~ Highly scented, in and out of bloom
~ Very vigorous. Under right conditions, will grow 5 feet per season
~ Easily propagated. I consider this an attribute, but it's the very reason it's so invasive south of the border, where it propagates naturally.
~ Very floriferous


This rose is not native to north America, but an introduction from Japan and Korea. According to rosarian, F.F. Rockwell, in his 1958 book The Complete Book of Roses, Rosa Multiflora was first brought to England from Japan in 1875. But at the same time Rockwell's book came out, gardener and writer, Vita Sackville-West, wrote in 1957 that R. Multiflora was not available in Engand, but that "... it will be procurable in this country before long, in the form of seedlings which are already coming up like mustard and cress in a rosarian's nursery." One or the other got something wrong, but that's the world of rose experts.


Vita Sackville-West, Even More for your Garden, Michael Joseph, 1958, pg. 79

F.F.Rockwell and Esther C. Grayson, The Rockwell's Complete Book of Roses, American Garden Guild and Doubleday, 1958, pg. 263

Botanica, Forward by William A. Grant, Botanica's Pocket Roses, Whitecap Books, 2001, pg. 60


Corinne Schmitt said...

I am not a great gardener so much of this went right over my head, but I have so much admiration for those of you who are knowledgeable about plants and can foster their healthy growth. These are beautiful flowers. I am glad they have you to defend them!

Chivon said...

This is a very comprehensive post Lorraine! I don't know too much about gardening but I know that my mom would love your blog so I'm going to share it her :)

Lorraine Syratt said...

Thank you ladies. I appreciate your comments and for stopping by for a gander. Have a great month with the blog challenge.

Anna Jeanine said...

Hi Lorraine! I noticed you posted right after I did in the UBC lineup, so I thought I'd come say hello. My son and I will be doing gardening this year as part of our homeschooling curriculum, so I look forward to your posts. Have a great month!

Lorraine Syratt said...

Thank you for stopping by. Good luck to you too this month and enjoy your foray into gardening.

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