Nature Bulletin No. 382-A May 16, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
The wild flowers of our forest preserves come into bloom, fade and go
to seed, one after another, to present an almost year-long pageant of
color. The most spectacular displays are in spring when the woodlands
are carpeted with a multitude of delicate blossoms; in May when the
landscape is dominated by the pink and white masses of crabapple and
hawthorn; and in late summer when the prairies blaze with bands of
rich golds, blues and purples.
This parade begins quietly in February when the queer hooded bloom
of the skunk cabbage pushes up through the crusted snow; and ends in
autumn, after the snow has begun to fly again, with the uncoiling of
the slender yellow petals of the witch hazel. But, for many of us, the
stars of this production are the Wild Roses that show their faces during
the long days of June and Midsummer.
About a half-dozen kinds of native wild roses are common in Illinois
and neighboring states, but a couple of others have escaped from
cultivation and gone wild. Roses are so variable and different kinds
often blend into each other so gradually that botanists seldom agree on
the number of species in North America and there is even some
confusion over the scientific names of some. Perhaps the most
beautiful of fur local kinds is the one known as the Prairie, or
Climbing Rose which lifts its clusters of blossoms above fencerows
and thickets, often to a height of eight or ten feet. Its rose-pink flowers
about two and one-half inches across, fade to white with age. Several
valuable cultivated climbing roses have been developed from this wild
species. Its stems are armed with stout widely separated thorns and,
unlike other native roses, its leaves usually have only three leaflets. In
this region it is most abundant in the Palos forest preserves.
The Swamp Rose, as its name implies, is found in swampy ground or
moist thickets. The leaves usually have seven leaflets and the flowers,
deep rose in color and up to two inches across, are borne in clusters on
upright prickly stems.
The two most common roses in the prairies and uplands of Illinois are
the Pasture or Dwarf Prairie Rose and the Meadow Rose. Both are low
bushy shrubs with fragrant pinkflowers and leaves usually divided into
five or seven leaflets. These two are often confused but the stems of the
former have sharp prickles while those of the meadow rose are usually
smooth. During the past century, several cultivated varieties of the
pasture rose have been grown for borders and shrubbery.
The Sweetbrier or Eglantine of song and poetry is a lovely little rose
occasionally found near old homesteads where it survives and spreads
without any special care. A native of Europe, its pink flowers have
notched heart-shaped petals and it gets its name from the very odor of
The wild roses all have flowers with five petals and a center of many
yellow stamens. While they do not produce nectar, they attract insects
by their color, their perfume and an abundance of pollen for food. The
little bright-colored apple-like fruits -- called "hips" -- are rich in
Vitamin C and attract birds which eat the flesh and scatter the nutlike
seeds far and wide.
The rose is said to be the world's oldest cultivated flower, dating back
to ancient times in both Europe and Asia. Over the centuries, flower
lovers have crossed and recrossed the different species so often that
hundreds or even thousands of different varieties arc grown and it is
quite impossible to trace their ancestries. Perhaps that is what the
poetess, Gertrude Stine, had in mind when she wrote: "Rose is a rose
is a rose is a rose.
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Update: June 2012