Well I guess that depends on where it’s growing, doesn’t it. In the middle of your garden bed you’d probably consider this plant a pest, but along your favorite hiking trail, you might be happy to see this fragrant bloomer, especially in late spring.
Rosa multiflora is listed as a noxious weed in many states (AL, IA, KY, MO, PA, WV), as a nuisance in one (WI), and is downright prohibited in others (CT, MA, NH). The USDA considers it invasive. Let’s face it, foragers (and other hungry, inquisitive animals) are probably the only beings happy to find the multiflora rose.
Native to Asia, the multiflora rose was introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century as a rootstock for ornamental roses. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service actually promoted it as a living fence and for erosion control, and it was tough enough to be planted as a median strip barrier on busy highways. Rosa multiflora produces multiple, small hips, each containing numerous seeds that remain viable in the soil for years. It’s a prolific plant, and not at all particular about soil quality. It grows in both full sun and full shade, and often forms thick thickets with sharp, curved thorns that easily make holes in an unsuspecting t-shirt.
Flowers are borne in terminal clusters and range from white to pale pink. In late spring to early summer they catch your eye as you hurtle past at 65 mph. But if you want to think of Rosa multiflora as more than just a pest, you’re going to have to get out of the car and get up close and personal with the flower.
Yes, the flower. Some of you may know I’m not a big edible flower person. But there are several I deem worthy of gathering, like elderflowers, linden flowers, and yes, the petals of Rosa multiflora. The most fragrant blooms have a spicy, clove-y scent, which transfers strongly to sugars, syrups, and cream. It’s worth sniffing the flowers on individual plants. I find the scent varies greatly, even among plants growing next to each other. The most fragrant blooms will also give you the most flavor.
In case you’re wondering about the hips of the multiflora rose, yes you can eat them. Ripe hips contain lots of vitamin C and are an important winter food for birds, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, and larger mammals, like bear and deer. Because the hips are small, it’s too cumbersome (for me, anyway) to separate flesh and seeds. I juice multiflora rose hips for jelly, because that way I can mash them whole. I use larger rose hips (like those of R. rugosa and R. canina) when I need the flesh.
As a forager, I’m happy when Rosa multiflora blooms and I can collect enough petals for syrup and (wait for it) rose petal infused panna cotta. As a gardener, I wonder if I should dig up the small plant I spotted yesterday on the edge of the driveway.