The Orphaned Woods: Rosa Multiflora

“For there’s an immense intellectual pleasure involved in making identification, and each time you learn to recognize a new species of animal or plant, the natural world becomes a more complicated and remarkable place, pulling intricate variety out of a background blur of nameless grey and green.”
 Helen Macdonald “Vesper Flights

I know what the thorny bush is in the summer when it’s covered in white flowers and growing out of control.  “Pull those bushes out”, my neighbor told me when we first moved the farm, “they’ll take over the whole pasture”.  He called it an Irish Rose, an invasive species that the early Irish settlers brought with them.

That’s the story anyway.

Dense and prickly, the thorny vines reach out clinging onto anything they can.  They pick my hands and stick to my clothes when I cut them down.  The sheep and donkeys don’t eat them, (although I’ve read that goats will) so when they grow along the fence they’re good reinforcement.

The bouquet  in our bathroom

On the Winter Solstice, when I made a small bouquet of red berries for the bathroom,  I wondered what the berries were, but didn’t associate them with the invasive rose bush.

Then, yesterday after reading Helen Macdonald’s essay, Field Guides in her new book “Vesper Flights“, I was inspired to look at my own Audobon Society Wildflower Field Guide.

Macdonald writes about the importance of Field Guides as opposed to just using Plant Identification Apps.

She points out that Field Guides give a whole context for a plant or animal.  And how looking at the pictures and reading about a plant or animal, even before you actually find it in nature,  can help you identify it through familiarity and context.    Macdonald started reading field guides when she was a kid and they helped her became aware of the subtle nuances between species.

A photo is only a two-dimensional image, but coupled with information helps round out an image and make it more recognizable.

After reading Macdonald’s essay,  I made myself a cup of tea, sat in the wicker rocker next to the woodstove, and looked through my wildflower field guide.  Each time I recognized a plant in a photo, I read about it.

I wasn’t trying to memorize all the names or the information.  I was just getting to know and understand better the plants I was already somewhat familiar with from seeing them.

And this got me thinking of the red berries in my bathroom.

I hadn’t seen them in my field guide.  They were not in the section with the other red berries.  So I put a picture of them into the PlanetNet app and there they were… Rosa Multiflora.

When I saw the name, I remembered seeing it in my Wildflower Field Guide next to the photo of the thorny invasive bush that “would take over if I let it.”  A little light went off in my brain and I got an image of the same bush I had collected the branch of berries from a few weeks before and then what it looked like in the summer, full of white flowers.

It turns out that the berries aren’t berries at all, but a “many seeded hip” as I read in my field guide.

In that moment, Macdonald’s essay proved true for me.

I never associated the invasive sticker bush and the little white roses with the hard, deep red “berries” before.  I never paid that much attention to them.

I learned from my field guide that the bush was originally from Eastern Asia, not Ireland.  I’m guessing that the association of Ireland and this invasive plant came from the stereotyping of Irish immigrants in the mid to late 1800s.

I also learned that the rosehips are edible.

But the hungry winter birds know all about that.  This morning I went back to the Rosa Multiflora and saw that at least half of the rosehips were gone.

Rosa Multiflora growing in the pasture. Many of them eaten by birds.

26 thoughts on “The Orphaned Woods: Rosa Multiflora

  1. It’s funny how some invasive plants are quite beautiful. Those red berries make an attractive display. We have a proliferation of Purple Loosestrife near a stream where we live. It’s considered an invasive species in Wisconsin but it’s a very pretty plant with a gorgeous purple color. Those field guides are really helpful.

    1. It is an interesting delema Barbara. I often feel that way about invasive plants. And as Sharon wrote, the bees love the Rosa Multiflora as I’m sure they do the Purple Loosestrife.

  2. That’s so informative! I’ve often seen “rose hips” as a ingredient either in an herbal tea (therefore, technically a ’tisane’) or either a body wash or other scented item. Does your bathroom arrangement (which is lovely by the way) have a “scent bouquet” too?

    1. I had to look up tisane (a medicinal drink or infusion) Amy. Thanks for a new word. And, no I have no scented flowers in the bathroom. I usually just pick what every flowers or plants that I find on the farm for the bathroom. Slim pickings this time of year.

  3. We have lots of rose hips in my village, they bring me joy in winter and early spring (and the birds).

    I agree on Field Guides. For me, reading the herbal and medicinal aspects of plants connects me deeply and provides constant amazement. Each plant can do So Much More than we realize and appreciate, including “weeds” (aka hardy survivor plants)

    1. Almost every plant I’ve read about so far has some medicinal purpose Elizabeth. It’s like getting to know people with all their complexities.

  4. You have inspired me to pick wild flowers, berries, and any kind of plant wildness for the vase on my altar for Scott and me. I have some dried up flowers from a bouquet someone sent me. It makes more sense since we both loved and love nature to replace the store bought bouquet with wild gifts from nature. Thank you! And it will also give me something to research as well. I was obsessed with field guides as a kid. I love your passion for nature.

    1. That’s a beautiful thing to do Janet. And learning about them at the same time. I bet you already know so many of the vegetation that grows around you.

  5. So … The sheep and donkeys don’t eat them. Which lets them grow into a hedge that keeps the sheep and donkeys from wandering. And then they grow rose hips to feed the birds in winter. And around and around it goes…

  6. Have a love/hate relationship with multiflora rose. It is damn invasive, but watching the busyness of the bees at the flowers in spring has always made it hard to cut it down. And its fruits are a winter survival food for birds when the juicier berries are gone. I use the bush as a harbinger of spring, it starts to unfurl its leaves very early.

    1. Now I’ll be watching that bush in the spring too Sharon. Definitely a love/hate thing. I’ll let them grow along the fence line, and the one in the middle of pastures, but cut down some of the smaller ones that seem to be sprouting up in multitudes.

  7. Oh, how I loved “Vesper Flights.” I also loved her “H is for Hawk.” When I read Helen’s books, I long to be more like her, curious, observant, quiet, patient. You are like her, Maria, and I love reading your posts about your discoveries. I am learning about birds, and buying field guides to help me identify them, rather than just my Merlin app. But it’s nice to have both when I can’t figure out what bird I’ve seen. I love finding out new things!

    1. I love H is for Hawk too Karla. We went to a book reading when that one came out. She inspires me. I feel like I’m reading Vesper flights at just the right time for me. I thought the story about the autistic boy and her parrot just beautiful. These are my favorite kinds of non-fictions writers. The ones that can bring us all the facts through stories the lay-person can relate to.

  8. want to add to what I commented before: Birds need berries with a high-fat content for sustained energy for migration for example. Two plants with the best kind of berries are red-osier dogwood (often planted in landscapes for its bright red branches). And also poison ivy with its whitish berries, it definitely has value, just not for humans.

    1. I learned after touching poison ivy what it looked like. But never saw the berries, or I guess I just never recognized them as poison Ivy. We don’t have poison ivy around here. I’m not familiar with the dogwoods either. But it’s a really nice way of choosing a tree to plant.

  9. Maria, you said almost every plant has a medicinal purpose. Yes, yes, yes. Even the awful Japanese knotweed
    has substances in its roots/rhizomes that help in healing Lyme disease. The medical botanist Stephen Harrod
    Buhner uses it in his Lyme protocols. He also has a Covid protocol.

    He has said that when a disease emerges, a plant comes to help humans deal with the disease. So much
    for my years of talking about the dangers of invasive plants.

  10. Red-osier dogwood is a shrub and you prune out the old branches so the new ones come up red again. Rose hip jams/jellies are made with the much larger rose hips from the beach rose, Rosa rugosa so Cape Cod must have plenty of them. It is probably the easiest care rose to grow. I was inspired to buy the Vesper Flights book. I checked: bees love purple loosestrife, and it has been favored with American beekeepers since the 1800s and was so common back then it was thought to be a native plant. I promise to stop frowning when I see it.

    1. Sharon, you will be my go-to person when I have questions about anything in the woods. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I think one of the things I’m going to love about this feature on my blog is all the stories and knowledge that people will be sharing. Let me know what you think of Vesper Flights.

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