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A Bright Spot Of Color


Out there on a wintry day, brilliant red spots of color on wild rose bushes are a cheerful and welcome juxtaposition to the monochromatic landscape, as is the tangle of burgundy stalks. Rosa woodsii, commonly known as Wild Rose, or Wood’s Rose, is a year round friend. In spring the stems turn a deeper maroon, then burst with iridescent green leaves. Delicate pink five-petaled flowers adorn the shrubs all summer.

Wild rose are found throughout the mountains and valleys of the west, providing wildlife with cover and forage. Surprisingly, the thorny stems are browsed by mule deer, white tail deer, porcupine, pronghorn, and elk. The leaves and rose hips (the fruit) are eaten by small non-game birds, upland game birds, squirrels, coyotes and bear. As anyone who has employed a boot toe to prod scat on the trail knows, those birds and animals are very efficient at dispersing the rose seeds.

Rose shrubs are well adapted to varied soil types, and able to flourish in shade and full sunlight. When conditions are favorable, which generally means moist, well-drained soils along lakes, streams, and ditches, they can grow into nearly impenetrable thickets. I imagine these dense, faintly scented forests of bright green leaves and pink flowers as the western version of a briar patch, a perfect home for rabbits and their small friends.

Rose hips are high in vitamin C, and I’ve heard claims that drinking rose hip tea all winter is a sure fire way to ward off colds. That, in my opinion, would require a significant investment in sugar or honey, but may be worth trying.

Rosa woodsii makes a lovely ornamental shrub, particularly for color in a winter garden, and to attract birds. Be aware it does require vigilant pruning of canes and suckers to keep in check, however, that effectiveness of rhizomatous spreading makes it a good choice for hillsides susceptible to erosion. Incidentally, it can also be a remarkably effective and esthetically pleasing alternative to fencing, at least where young children are concerned.

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