This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
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, ii 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. When shall we ever learn that not even a hair has been added to or taken from a blossom without a lawful cause, and study it accordingly? Fragrance, abundant pollen, and bright-colored petals naturally attract many insects; but roses secrete no nectar. Some species of bees, and a common beetle (Trichius piger) for example, seem to depend upon certain wild roses exclusively for pollen to feed themselves and their larvae. Bumblebees, to which roses are adapted, require a firmer support than the petals would give, and so alight on the centre of the flower, where the pistil receives pollen carried by them from other roses. Although the numerous stamens and the pistils mature simultaneously, the former are usually turned outward, that the incoming pollen-laden insect may strike the stigma first. When the large bees cease their visits, as they may in long-continued dull or rainy weather, the rose, turning toward the sun, stands more or less obliquely, and some of the pollen must fall on its stigma. Occasional self-fertilization matters little.
If plants have insect benefactors, they have their foes as well; and hordes of tiny aphides, commonly known as green flies or plant lice, moored by their sucking tubes to the tender sprays of roses, wild and cultivated, live by extracting their juices. A curious relationship exists between these little creatures and the ants, which "milk" them by stroking and caressing them with their antennae until they emit a tiny drop of sweet, white fluid. The yellow ant, that lives an almost subterranean life, actually domesticates flocks and herds of root-feeding aphides; the brown ant appropriates those that live among the bark of trees; and the common black garden ant (Lasius niger), devoting itself to the aphis of the rose bushes, protects it in extraordinary ways, delightfully described by the author of " Ants, Bees, and Wasps."
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 Prairie, Climbing, or Michigan Rose (R. setigera) lifts clusters of deep, bright pink flowers, that after a while fade almost white, above the thickets and rich prairie soil, from southern Ontario and Wisconsin to the Gulf, as far eastward as Florida. Its distinguishing characteristics are: Stout, widely separated prickles along the stem, that grows several feet long; leaves compounded of three, rarely five, oval leaflets, acute or obtuse at the apex; stalks and calyx often glandular; odorless flowers that, opening in June and July, measure about two and a half inches across, their styles cohering in a smooth column on which bees are tempted to alight; and a round hip, or seed vessel, formed by the fruiting calyx, which is more or less glandular. From this parent stock several valuable double-flowering roses have been derived, among others the Queen and the Gem of the Prairies, but it is our only native rose that has ever passed into cultivation.
The Smooth, 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 a trifle larger and 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.
Surely no description of our Common, Low, Dwarf, or Pasture Rose (R. humilis) - R. lucida of Gray - is needed. One's acquaintance with flowers must be limited indeed, if it does not include this most abundant of all the wild roses from Ontario to Georgia, and westward to Wisconsin. In light, dry, or rocky soil we find the exquisite, but usually solitary, blossom late in May until July, and, like most roses, it has the pleasant practice of putting forth a stray blossom or two in early autumn. The stamens of this species are turned outward so strongly that self-pollination must very rarely take place.
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Among the following charming wild roses, not natives, but naturalized immigrants from foreign lands, that have escaped from gardens, is Shakespeare's Canker-bloom, the lovely Dog Rose or Wild Brier (R. canina), that spreads its long, straggling branches along the roadsides and banks, covering the waste lands with its smooth, beautiful foliage, and in June and July with pink or white roses. Because it lacks the fragrance of sweet brier, which it otherwise closely resembles, it has been branded with the dog prefix as a mark of contempt. Professor Koch says that long before it was customary to surround gardens with walls, men had rose hedges. " Each of the four great peoples of Asia," he continues, "possessed its own variety of rose, and carried it during all wanderings, until finally all four became the common property of the four peoples. The great Indo-Ger-manic stock chose the 'hundred-leaved' and Red Rose (R. Gal-lica); nevertheless, after the Niebelungen the common dog rose played an important part among the ancient Germans. The
Damascus Rose (R. Damascena), which blooms twice a year, as well as the Musk Rose (R. moschata), were cherished by the Semitic or Arabic stock; while the Turkish-Mongolian people planted by preference the Yellow Rose (R. luted). Eastern Asia (China and Japan) is the fatherland of the Indian and Tea Roses."
How fragrant are the pages of Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare with the Eglantine! This delicious plant, known here as Sweetbrier (R. riibiginosa), 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!