ROSE FAMILY - Rosaceae: Wild Roses
Just as many members of the lily tribe show a preference for the rule of three in the arrangements of their floral parts, so the wild roses cling to the quinary method of some primitive ancestor, a favorite one also with the buttercup and many of its kin, the geraniums, mallows, and various others. Most of our fruit trees and bushes are near relatives of the rose. Five petals and five sepals, then, we always find on roses in a state of nature; and although the progressive gardener of to-day has nowhere shown his skill more than in the development of a multitude of petals from stamens in the magnificent roses of fashionable society, the most highly cultivated darling of the greenhouses quickly reverts to the original wild type, setting his work of years at naught, if once it regain its natural liberties through neglect.
To protect its foliage from being eaten by hungry cattle, the rose goes armed into the battle of life with curved, sharp prickles, not true thorns or modified branches, but merely surface appliances which peel off with the bark. To destroy crawling pilferers of pollen, several species coat their calices, at least, with fine hairs or sticky gum; and to insure wide distribution of offspring, the seeds are packed in the attractive, bright red calyx tube or hip, a favorite food of many birds, which drop them miles away.
In literature, ancient and modern, sacred and profane, no flower figures so conspicuously as the rose. To the Romans it was most significant when placed over the door of a public or private banquet hall. Each who passed beneath it bound himself thereby not to disclose anything said or done within; hence the expression sub rosa, common to this day.
The Smoother, Early, or Meadow Rose (R. blanda), found blooming in June and July in moist, rocky places from Newfoundland to New Jersey and a thousand miles westward, has slightly fragrant flowers, at first pink, later pure white. Their styles are separate, not cohering in a column nor projecting as in the climbing rose. This is a leafy, low bush mostly less than three feet high; it is either entirely unarmed, or else provided with only a few weak prickles; the stipules are rather broad, and the leaf is compounded of from five to seven oval, blunt, and pale green leaflets, often hoary below.
In swamps and low, wet ground from Quebec to Florida and westward to the Mississippi, the Swamp Rose (R. carolina) blooms late in May and on to midsummer. The bush may grow taller than a man, or perhaps only a foot high. It is armed with stout, hooked, rather distant prickles, and few or no bristles. The leaflets, from five to nine, but usually seven, to a leaf, are smooth, pale, or perhaps hairy beneath to protect the pores from filling with moisture arising from the wet ground. Long, sharp calyx lobes, which drop off before the cup swells in fruit into a round, glandular, hairy red hip, are conspicuous among the clustered pink flowers and buds.
How fragrant are the pages of Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare with the Eglantine! This delicious plant, known here as Sweetbrier (R. rubiginosa), emits its very aromatic odor from russet glands on the under, downy side of the small leaflets, always a certain means of identification. From eastern Canada to Virginia and Tennessee the plant has happily escaped from man's gardens back to Nature's.
In spite of its American Indian name, the lovely white Cherokee Rose (R. Sinica), that runs wild in the South, climbing, rambling, and rioting with a truly Oriental abandon and luxuriance, did indeed come from China. Would that our northern thickets and roadsides might be decked with its pure flowers and almost equally beautiful dark, glossy, evergreen leaves!