The Rose Family

Part of the Native Plant Trail


Written and narrated by Ed Miller.

The Rose Family

The Rose Family is the most diverse of our native family collections. Plants range from the black cherry, a large forest type tree, to the small shrubby cinquefoil. In spite of the size differences, all these plants share a similar flower plan which you may have learned to recognize. The family grouping is further subdivided into genera by other characteristics. For instance, we have several members of the Prunus genus such as black cherry, chokecherry, pin cherry and sand cherry; they all have a single seed or pit. We have three species of wild Plum of the same genus also, with one pit, but flattened. The wild Plums are edible, sweet when ripe, and a friend has made plum conserve for me that is quite delicious.

The Rosa genus is represented here by all of the wild roses native to New York, including one called the Arkansas rose. It’s still considered native but with a big home territory, as are two other wild roses, the Rosa viginiana and R. carolina. These roses are so similar that they require a very close look at their prickles and stipules for identification. The other native roses, such as the swamp, New England, prairie, prickly, and smooth rose are somewhat easier to distinguish. None of the wild roses have the profusion of petals seen on cultivars. Those are the result of careful selective breeding to appeal to gardeners.

Apples, pears, and peaches are also members of the Rose family, but are not native to New York, except for one wild apple species which is struggling on the far end of the collection. Also at the far end are specimens of the two native species of Spiraea, commonly called meadowsweet and steeple bush. Normally they are wetland plants, but are thriving here. The individual flowers of the inflorescence are tiny, but your hand lens will reveal its rose affiliation. Also nearby is Nine Bark (Physocarpus), enough different from Spiraea to now be in its own genus. Another genus (Crataegus) with apple like fruit (called haws) is the hawthorn. Note the nasty thorns, which made it suitable for natural fences. Our collection has only one species of hawthorn, although some specialists claim they can recognize 60 or more species. Good luck to them.

Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) and its prettier northern relative the Showy Mountain Ash (S. decora) are planted near the Spiraea To their left are the red and black species of chokeberry, which produce nice white flowers in the spring and red or black berries and red foliage in the fall.

We have several specimens of the showy Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus). Its fruit is insipid but edible. We have not planted the invasive and thorny sweet wild blackberries and raspberries of the same genus, which you will find near the black cherry and off trail. We have also avoided the Ribes genus (Gooseberry and Currents) which are host to the blister rust that attacks White Pine. Note the several wild shrubby cinquefoil plants, nearly identical to the yellow and white varieties in the nursery trade. I have rarely seen white flowers in the wild, but unusual colored flowers seem to occur in almost any species and nursery men are quick to commercialize oddities. Back from the path are two species of Shad (Amelanchier genus). One is the smooth shad, the other is creeping shad. Both have pretty white flowers in the spring. I like the genus so well that we have planted many specimens of the 5 native species on the sunny dry location (600 feet), where they will be free to display their spring beauty. Their red foliage in the fall is pretty nice too!

Ed Miller, Curator, Native Plant Collection. Revised February 2013