Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Wild Roses
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 its leaves.

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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