Rosa acicularis

Prickly Rose

Prickly Rose
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Kitty Kohout

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Rosa, from the Latin rosa, "rose".
  • acicularis, from the Latin acicula, "a small pin for a headdress", hence "needle-like, prickly"
  • Common Name, from its prickled stems; a direct translation of the Latin.


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Rosales, the Roses
          • Family Rosaceae, the Roses; with Amelanchier (Juneberries), Aronia (Chokeberries), Crataegus (Hawthorns), Malus (Apples), Physocarpus (Ninebark), Potentilla (Cinquefoils), Prunus (Cherries & Plums), Rubus (Blackberries, Dewberries, and Raspberries), Sorbus (Mountain Ash), and Spiraea (Spirea)
            • Genus Rosa, the Roses
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 24812
  • Also known as Rosa sayi, Rosa bourgeauiana, Rosa engelmanni, Rosa pyrifera, Rosa butleri
  • Hybridizes with Prairie Wild Rose (Rosa arkansana), Smooth Wild Rose (Rosa blanda), Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana), and Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii); the first two Northwoods natives.


  • A ¼, ½, ¾, º, é
  • Leaves
  • Stem
  • Roots
  • Flowers
    • Sepals
    • Petals
    • Stamens
    • Pistils
    • Ovary superior (within blossom) inferior (below flower)
  • Fruit
  • Seed
  • A deciduous, flowering shrub about 4' tall
  • Leaves alternate, pinnately compound with five to nine leaflets and conspicuous stipules.
  • Stems usually covered with slender, straight bristles or prickles.
  • Roots fine, in the upper 8" of soil, with deep roots to 55".
  • Flowers pink or rose-colored with numerous stamens, borne singly on lateral branches.
  • Fruit globose, fleshy, red or orange-red hip with 10-30 achenes, each 0.15 to 0.2" long with stiff hairs along one side.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Alaska to Newfoundland,
  • Circumpolar in boreal forest. Alaska to Quebec and New England, south to British Columbia, New Mexico, the Dakotas, and the Lake States of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin.


  • A characteristic species of boreal forests under White Spruce (Picea glauca), and relatively open Black Spruce (Picea mariana); very common in northern hardwood forests of Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Aspen (Populus tremuloides), and in transitional zones between birch and spruce forest. Less frequent in closed black spruce forest.
  • Near the Great Lakes, found on sandy and gravelly shores, and sandy woodlands with Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) and oak (Quercus spp.); also on rocky ridges and shores, in moist thickets, in swamps, and in openings in conifer forests.
  • Moderately shade tolerant.
  • On Black Spruce sites, may appear as sprouts on the freshly disturbed or burned site. It can spread rapidly by stem and root shoots and reaches greatest density during the tall shrub-sapling stage or under succession Aspen. It decreases as the canopy closes.
  • In White Spruce stands, sprouts following disturbance, becoming a successional dominant under various mixtures of Aspen, Birch, and White Spruce. Finally, it is an understory dominant in the climax stand.


  • Moderately fire resistant. Can sprout from the base of fire killed stems or from rhizomes. Well adapted for sprouting after fire because rhizomes are located in mineral soil.
  • Severe fires which remove organic soil kill shallow rhizomes, leaving alive only those rhizome portions growing in mineral soil.
  • Although recovery following fire is primarily vegetative, roses germinate from on-site and off-site seeds as well. Seeds are fire resistant, and germination may be stimulated by fire. Fire usually kills aboveground parts of prickly rose.
  • In the Great Lakes region, less frequent on severely burned sites than on lightly burned sites, although its degree of dominance is similar for burned and unburned sites. Sprouts after fire in Black Spruce, but it is not competitive with Black Spruce.


  • Trees: Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), White Spruce (Picea glauca), Black Spruce (Picea mariana), Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Shrubs:
  • Herbs:
  • Ground Covers:
  • Mammals: Important food source for grouse, showshoe hares, and small rodents.White-tailed deer browse on wild roses (Rosa spp.) as do moose; black bear eat prickly rose hips in fall. Wild rose hips are eaten by songbirds and small mammals; upland gamebirds eat buds as well as hips. Larger fur-bearing mammals such as bears, rabbits, and beaver eat hips, stems, and foliage of roses.
  • Birds: Wild rose hips are probably not as palatable to birds as other fruits, remaining on the shrubs, providing an important winter resource.


  • Native Americans made medicinal tea from wild roses which was used as a remedy for diarrhea and stomach maladies. They sometimes smoked the inner bark. The Crow used a solution made by boiling rose roots in a compress to reduce swelling. The same solution was drunk for mouth bleeding and gargled as a remedy for tonsillitis and sore throats; vapor from this solution was inhaled for nose bleeding.


  • Attractive ornamentals but need careful pruning.
  • Juice extracted from hips by boiling and used to make jellies and syrups. Pulp from the hips, after seeds and skins are removed, used to make jams, marmalades, and catsup. Other juice or fruit is sometimes added for flavoring.
  • Rose hips may be preserved by drying and then ground into a powder that may be added to baked goods.
  • Green hips can be peeled and cooked, and young shoots have been eaten as a potherb.
  • Leaves, flowers, and buds can be used to make tea; teas made from flowers and buds may relieve diarrhea. Flower petals are also sometimes eaten raw and may be used for perfume.
  • Hips are high in vitamin A and and are a winter source of vitamin C.


  • Sexually by seed
  • Flowers
  • Assexually by
  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Vegetative regeneration by means of widespread rhizomes. A single clone with 8 to 11 aboveground stems linked by a horizontal rhizome can cover 12 to 24 square yards. Because rhizomes sprout after fire and other disturbance, clones may live for hundreds of years.
  • Flowers and sets seed frequently in open communities and infrequently under a canopy.
  • Seed dispersal by small mammals, song birds, and grouse.
  • Seeds exhibit deep dormancy and require warm stratification for the initial stages of germination, followed by cold stratification for germination to continue. While most seeds germinate following snowmelt the second spring after seed set, germination of one seed crop may spread over several years


  • Achenes of prickly rose need both warm and cold stratification for germination.
  • Can be successfully started from rhizome, softwood, and hardwood cuttings. Cuttings that include both rhizome and stem tissue give the best results.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun
    • Soil
    • Water
    • Spacing
    • Fertilization
  • Size 12"-18"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate
  • Good for
  • Cultivars include
    • variety 'Alba', with
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • Susceptible to leaf rusts, leaf spots, powdery mildew, stem canker, and crown gall.
  • Foliage very sensitive to fumigation by sulphur dioxide.
  • Recommended for revegetation on moist to wet sites; a good choice for erosion control, especially since the prickly stems may discourage overbrowsing.
  • Tolerant of acidic situations, adapted to a wide range of soil textures and moisture levels, and rapidly covers an area.



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Last updated on 31 August, 2004