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Rosa rugosa Thunb.

Common name(s): Rugosa rose, saltspray rose, beach tornado
Family: Rosaceae
Type: Woody shrub
Size: 4-6' high x 4-6' wide, 8' possible
Texture: Medium
Hardiness: Zone 2a USDA
Range: Northern China . Korea . Japan
Habit in Flower

There is nothing more beautiful than the perfection of a rose in mid-summer. The glorious fragrance wafting up from perfectly formed petals make it clear why this is the flower of choice for many people.

Unfortunately, to obtain the perfect rose one must often have the perfect soil, a perfect watering regimen, and a lot of time. To those of you who don't fall into this category, I offer you Rosa rugosa.

It may sprawl a little more than the hybrid teas that we see nowadays, and the flower petals tend to flop this way and that. All in all, it often has a kind of shaggy, unkempt air about it but that's what gives this plant its character. Named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of its glossy green leaves, this rose is a charmer that can soften and naturalize any area.

It's a carefree rose, picky only about drainage. It will grow in salty conditions, shade, full sun, and poor soil, so long as it's well-drained. Along the East Coast it even grows right in the sandy beaches!

There's other reasons to grow this beauty besides the low maintenance. Large blooms cover this plant in early summer, giving way to sporadic blossoms up to the first frost. And Oh! The fragrance is sweet and pleasant, carrying for yards at a time. The blooms later give way to lucious brick-red rose hips so large that they look like cherry tomatoes. And if that weren't enough, sometimes the yellow to orange to red fall color can be excellent!

If you have the space, this is the rose for you. There are many select cultivars available that will heighten the plant's natural beauty. Choose one and you will never regret it.


The clean, beautifully deep green foliage of this rose distinguishes it from most others. Each compound leaf is made up of 5-9 smaller leaflets, each heavily veined and wrinkled (hence the rugosa, for rugose).

Taxonomic description:

Alternate and odd-pinnate, containing 5-9 elliptic to elliptic-obovate leaflets, each 1 - 2 1/2" long with acute or obtuse apices and serrate margins. Rugose and glabrous above, reticulate and pubescent beneath.


With colors ranging from white to yellow, pink, and purple, these gorgeous blooms can be either single, semi-double, or double.

Opening in June, these 2 1/2 to 3 1/2" blooms sweeten the air and attract bumblebees with their fragrance. The blooms will continue sporadically until frost.

Taxonomic description:

Perfect, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2" across, borne solitary or in clusters. Pink, white, yellow, or purple with yellow stamens, pedicels short and bristly.



View a larger version!
Looking like clusters of ripe cherry tomatoes, the orange to red rose hips are oval and glossy, lasting until late autumn.

Taxonomic description:

Orange to red 1" glossy, depressed-globose hip containing achenes.

Fall Color:

Fall color varies widely among members of this species, ranging from yellow to bronze or an excellent orange-red. Certain cultivars are known for their better autumn coloration, including 'Albo-plena', R. x calocarpa, and 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup'.


The stems on this rose are incredibly spiny, densely covered in short, gray, needle-like thorns about 1/4 to 1/2" long. There is an advantage to this prickly barrier rabbits and other rodents aren't tempted to go out for a midnight snack with this plant!


Most roses have quite a few insect and disease problems, and Rosa rugosa is no exception. Fortunately, its extreme vigor and care-free culture allow it to compensate quite well for any other short-comings.

The most common problems include powdery mildew, cankers, rusts, black-spot, aphids, beetles (Japanese beetles especially seem to enjoy this plant), borers, leafhoppers, scales, mites, slugs, and more.


This rose can be propagated by seed, softwood cuttings, or hardwood cuttings.

If grown from seed, cold stratification at 40°F for 90 to 120 days to prepare the seedcoat for emergence.

Hardwood cuttings should be collected anytime in November through early March, then stored at 35° to 40°F in sand or peat. When spring rolls around the cuttings should be planted outside with only the top 1" of the cutting protruding from the soil.

Softwood cuttings are also possible from July through September. All but the top leaf should be removed, and IBA and 1000 ppm IBA talc or quick dip are recommended for higher success rates. The best way to propagate this species is through cuttings, despite literature suggesting the contrary. They should be gathered in June-July and dipped in 8000 ppm IBA-talc, followed by a brief dormancy cycle.


This is an easy-to-grow species, although well-drained soil is key to its success. Slightly acidic soil is preferred, although the plant is adaptable enough for this not to make that much of a difference. It is extremely salt tolerant and can grow well in pure sand when I was vacationing in Maine, white and pink flowering forms grew along both rocky and sandy shorelines.

Suggested uses:

White Flower
Given its splendor and easy care, there are all kinds of possibilities for a plant like Rosa rugosa.

It works quite well as a single specimen, en masse, or either as a trimmed or unkempt hedge. The sweet summer fragrance makes it especially nice near windows or walkways, although it needs to be given space so that the thorny stalks don't grow into passageways.

Its tolerance to saltspray and semi-drought resistance also make it an ideal screen along parking lots or other paved surfaces.


'Albo-plena' Double, pure white flowers, dense low habit. No hips, but high disease resistance and yellow-orange fall color.
'Belle Poitevine' Semi-double, mauve-pink flowers, compact habit, and yellow-orange fall color. Hips insignicant and foliage dull, but high disease resistance.
'Blanc Double de Coubert' Similar to 'Albo-plena', but more vigorous with semi-double blooms.
'Fru Dagmar Hastrup'
Also known (incorrectly) as 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup', but the name is Danish, hence the 'Fru'. This is my favorite, with beautiful, extremely fragrant silver-pink blooms and bright yellow stamens. Hip production is high, and fall color is yellow to orange. Disease resistance on this compact form is also higher than any other culitivar available.
'Grootendorst' cultivars Although popular in the trade, members of the Grootendorst selections ('F. J. Grootendorst, Grootendorst Supreme', 'Pink Grootendorst', and 'White Grootendorst) have lower disease resistance, lanky habits, and other less attractive qualities. The other cultivars mentioned here are far superior and worth the extra time spent hunting one down.
'Hansa' This popular cultivar has lilac-pink semi-double blooms with good hip production. It does tend to get more leggy than the "better" selections.

Medicinal uses:

Traditionally, roses have long been valued for their culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatherapy properties. Although only R. gallica is listed as having any medicinal properties, most old roses still have valuable curative properties.

Rose vinegar was once used for headaches, especially those induced by heat. The leaves also act as a mild laxative, and rose oil is highly antiseptic.

Much more popular are the cosmetic and culinary values. Rose hip jam, jelly, syrup, and candies are quite popular. Other variations include rose butter a stick of butter is wrapped in rose petals and sealed in a jar overnight. The next day, the butter has a delicate flavor that can be spread on bread and served with a few fresh rose petals, like a sandwich.

Many perfumes are made from rose oil, and the petals and rosehips are often found in potpourris for their color and fragrance.


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