This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Rosa Carolina, Linnaeus
Stem erect, smooth, armed with stout, recurved, stipular prickles;. leaflets five to nine, oblong or elliptical, acute, finely serrate, dull and smoothish above, the lower surface paler, or, like the prickly petioles and caudate calyx-lobes, tomentose; flowers single or corymbose; calyx-tube and peduncles glandular-hispid; stem four to six feet high, commonly purplish; fruit depressed-globose, glandular. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, and Wood's Class-Booh of Botany.)
THE botanists of the earlier part of this century frequently gave specific names to mere varieties, since they were not as well informed as those of our own time in regard to the tendency to variation in plants and flowers, a tendency which is shown much more distinctly in some species than in others. But later, when it was not thought necessary to specially note these variations, their names, previously given, often remained as synonyms to burden botanical nomenclature; and hence the greater the tendency to vary, the more synonyms a plant may have. Our Rosa Carolina, being a very variable species, furnishes a good illustration of this statement. From the list of synonyms given by Mr. Watson in his "Bibliographical Index to North American Botany" we select the following as of most importance: R. Virginiana, by Du Roi; R. corymbosa, by Ehrhart; R. Carolinimsis and R. palustris, by Marshall; R. Pennsylvar nica, by Michaux; R.florida, by Don; R.flexuosa and R. ennca-phylla, by Rafmesque; and R. Hudsonica, by Thory. Several of these names show that they were based on the number of flowers in a cluster, or of leaflets in the leaf, or on other peculiariti which are now known to be of little consequence in the Rose, although they may perhaps be of some weight in other genera.
Of all our native species, the Rosa Carolina is perhaps the most variable, not only as a garden plant, but even in its wild state. Like other Roses in their natural condition, it has normally only five petals; but flowers with a larger number are not unfrequently found, and Humphrey Marshall, in his "Arbustum Americanum," published in 1785, describes a perfectly double Rose, which seems to be identical with our species, although he calls it R. Pennsylvanica plena. Rafinesque, indeed, seems to have found several double forms. He notes not less than seven different varieties, to which, in accordance with the custom of his day, he gave Latin varietal names, such as corymbosa, uni-Jlora, alba, erecta, and pimpincllifolia, which latter, he says, may have single or double flowers, and very small leaves. He adds by way of conclusion: "There are many varieties, several of which have produced double flowers in gardens." These varieties were, no doubt, first discovered in a wild state, and then transplanted to the garden, although our author states that they are found in cultivation.
Among the many varieties mentioned by Rafinesque, the white one (alba) is especially interesting in connection with the legendary history of the Rose. From the various stories of the birth of this flower, it is evident that the original Rose was conceived to be white, and that the colored varieties were looked upon as a departure from the state of nature. This idea is embodied in the following lines by one of the poets: "As erst, in Eden's blissful bowers, Young Eve surveyed her countless flowers, An opening rose of purest white She marked with eye that beamed delight. Its leaves she kissed, and straight it drew From beauty's lip the vermil hue."
But whatever may have been the fact in regard to the Roses of the primeval world, it is nevertheless true that, among our native Roses, color is the rule and white the variety; and the latter is indeed so scarce that we know of no author but Rafinesque who refers to it. The white varieties seem to have disappeared even from cultivation, as we have met with no one who has seen any of late years.
The Swamp Rose has not the grateful perfume of the Dwarf Wild Rose, nor has it the perfectly outlined petals, or the classical look in general, of that species. The flowers, indeed, have a somewhat loose and ragged appearance; but the plant, nevertheless, presents certain features which delight the eve. It is generally found growing in large numbers together, often covering a whole acre or so; and in June, when the bushes are in their flowering prime, the mass of blossoms is beautiful to look upon; while in the autumn, when the leaves of our plant are of an orange brown, and all the bushes are aglow with the crimson, berry-like fruit, there is hardly a more attractive sight to be seen. The height of the Swamp Rose is about twice that of the Dwarf Wild Rose, and the peculiar gray of the under surface of the leaves, together with the dull, dark green of the upper surface, affords a good mark of distinction. The two will seldom, indeed, be confounded by the careful student, no matter how much the Swamp Rose may vary from its original form; but if there should be any difficulty in determining the species, the spines will decide the question, as they are straight in the Dwarf Wild Rose, and hooked in the present species. In the latter, the calyx leaves also remain on the fruit much longer than in the former, but they fall completely before winter sets in. On the specimen represented in Fig. 2 of our plate, they are still partly to be seen; and we may here remark that, while botanical authors speak of the fruit as "depressed-globose," our drawing is a faithful representation from nature.
The attention of the poets has, so far, been given to the Roses-of the Old World almost entirely; and indeed the only direct poetical allusion to any of our native species that we can find is by Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, who makes our Swamp Rose the emblem of dangerous love in the language of flowers. In general character, our species approaches very near to the R. cin-namomca, or Cinnamon Rose of Europe, of which there is a thornless variety, and the Swamp Rose is also frequently found very sparingly armed. In that interesting book entitled "Legends of the Rose," we are, indeed, told that all Roses were originally thornless, and the flower itself is thus made to explain the existence of the thorns: "Young Love, rambling through the wood, Found me in my solitude, Bright with dew and freshly blown, And trembling to the zephyr's sighs; But as he stooped to gaze upon The living gem with raptured eyes, It chanced a bee was busy there, Searching for its fragrant fare; And Cupid, stooping too, to sip, The angry insect stung his lip, And gushing from the ambrosial cell, One bright drop on my bosom fell.
Weeping to his mother, he Told the tale of treachery; And she, her vengeful boy to please, Strung his bow with captive bees; But placed upon my slender stem, The poisoned stings she plucked from them, And none, since that eventful morn, Have found the flowers without a thorn."
The Swamp Rose is at home along the seaboard, from Maine to Florida, but beyond the Mississippi it occurs only in Iowa and in the eastern part of Nebraska, and as far as we know, it has never yet been found either directly north or south of these states.
1. Flowering branch from a Massachusetts specimen gathered toward the end of June.
2. Fruit from Pennsylvania in October.