Solving the Riddle of the Wild Prairie Rose
Rosa setigera

Wild 'Prairie Rose' (sometimes misspelled 'Prarie Rose'), Rosa setingera syn. Rosa pratincola. The state flower of Iowa and North Dakota is often confused with R. arkansana and R. blanda.



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The wild 'Prairie Rose' has been used by hybridizers to produce such notable climbing roses as 'Baltimore Belle' and the fragrant 'Long John Silver'.

The 'Prairie Rose' is a vigorous, wild shrub rose growing to 5 feet tall. It occurs naturally in prairies and at the edges of woods. Discovered in North America in 1810, it has naturalized in MA, NY, and ND.  So have a few other American species roses which look nearly identical to it.

This has caused a great deal of confusion.

On the web, R. arkansana, R. blanda, R. setigera, and R. pratincola are all identified, by various sources, as the wild 'Prairie Rose'.  However, most of these are different species.  At least that is what my research leads me to believe.

There are two rose gardening references I absolutely rely upon.  The Rose Bible by Rayford Clayton Reddell and Botanica's Roses: The Encyclopedia of Roses.  Both list Rosa setigera as the 'Prairie Rose'.

Rosa arkansana, which was first collected near the Arkansas River in Canyon City, CO, features strongly upright stems lined with compound leaflets consisting of 7-11 inch long, oval-shaped leaves with toothed edges. This species differs from R. setigera in the following ways:

  1. Mature specimens of the 'Arkansas Rose' will only be about 2 feet tall vs. 5 feet for the 'Prairie Rose'.
  2. R. setigera grows wider than it is tall with lax stems, a growth habit that distinguishes it as the only North American climbing species rose.  The canes of R. arkansana grow straight up.

Rosa blanda is another American species rose that is very similar to R. setigera.  Here's how you can tell which one you have:

  1. The stems of the wild 'Prairie Rose' are lined with hooked thorns. Rosa blana's stems are smooth.
  2. R. blanda's hips are shaped like upside-down pears.  Rosa setigera's hips are round.

Rosa pratincola seems to be the same plant as R. setigera.

The disease-free foliage of the 'Prairie Rose' is bright green on top with a gray, fuzzy reverse.  Each leaf is made up of three to five oval-shaped leaflets.  This species is valued in the garden because it blooms for a longer season than most other wild roses, and for its cold tolerance.  It is reliably winter hardy in USDA zones 4-11.

The 'Prairie Rose' Flower

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The single, pink blossoms of this fragrant rose appear in clusters at the stem tips. Each 2.5 inch bloom consists of 5 petals which start out deep rose and pale as they age.

The season of bloom is from May through August.

Prairie rose petals are edible. Steep 2 or 3 in a cup of hot water to make an herbal tea or sprinkle them into salads.

The blooms are followed by bright red, leathery hips from which seed may be collected to grow new plants.


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