A Gardening Journal

Red-Winged Rose

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Such a multi-talented rose.  First, the delicate, four-petaled, white flowers with a bouncy, darker-hued levitating poof of pistols in the center.  (I didn't say big four-petal white flowers, though.  An inch and a half, tops.)

 

And then there are the tiny inch-and-a-half leaves with eleven minute leaflets so small they look ferny.

 

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Plus some subtle burgundy-pink action at the base of the leaves...


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...which is the protective scale that had covered the young leaf bud through the Winter.  By happy accident, it's chatting nicely with the burgundy of the cut-leaf Japanese maple in the background.

 

All in all, tidy, tiny, and tame.  Those aren't cursewords for me, but still, I have my limits.  And indeed, the real reason I grow this rose is because it has such counter-intuitively ferocious and colorful thorns.

 

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Those unique, scarlet, translucent thorns are only on eager new canes—the ones that will start sprouting in June.

 

Here's a great shot from WikiCommons: 

 

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Incredible!  And when the cold weather arrives and the leaves fall, the amazing thorns are on full display all Winter.  Fantastic!

 

To grow a rose for the flowers is normal.  To give an appreciative nod to its appealing leaves is the next deeper level of sophistication. To grow a rose for the thorns that look particularly blood-thirsty in Winter when the bush is leafless and the wind is howling?  Morticia Addams would be proud.

 

My red-spined rose is just getting its head together; it's barely big enough and old enough to bloom.  To encourage the new canes with the pink/red wings that will be so vivid this coming Winter, I'll prune the entire bush hard right after flowering.

 

My red-winged rose fantasy extends just a bit further, even, than having a bush with plenty of stiletto-tipped red thorns.  I want to grow this rose as a standard, too, by cutting all the branches that grow out of a single point at the top of one main trunk back to that same point each Spring.  In a year or two it will have acquired a lollipop shape, a "standard" as any lollipop shape is termed in horticulture.  But this lollipop will be absolutely bristling with thorns.

 

 

Make Morticia proud.  Grow this rose.  Here's how:

 

Latin Name

Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha

Common Name

Red-winged Rose

Family

Rosaceae, the Rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8

Habit

A shrub rose.  Growing naturally, it will have many canes growing up from the base, in a haystack broader than tall.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

If unpruned—which I don't recommend—a haystack eight feet tall and wide, or more.  If pruned, a much smaller bush, to three to five feet tall and wide.

Texture

In leaf, ferny and delicate thanks to the unusually small leaves.  If unpruned, twiggy and unkempt in the Winter.  If pruned to maximize the pink-red wings?  Striking and graceful.

Grown for

the unique large, translucent, pink-red thorns.  These can be almost an inch wide at the base, tapering to a needle-sharp tip.

 

the ferny foliage, giving the bush a delicate and even fluffy look in Summer.

 

the small but completely charming white flowers.  Unusually for a rose, they have only four petals. 

Flowering season

Mid Spring: Late May in Rhode Island.

Culture

As with any rose, full sun, generously-nutritious soil, and a decent amount of water.

How to handle it

While the flowers and foliage are delightful, there are too many other roses with similar charms but better natural shape, or longer blooming period, or both, to grow this rose for flowers or foliage alone.  The astounding translucent thorns are its true calling card, and the bush should be handled to take best advantage of its interest in growing them. 

 

After the bush is established and vigorous, prune severely right after it's through flowering.  (It only flowers once and not for very long; for me, it's time to prune in early June.)  The resultant new canes will have the biggest-possible "wings", which will also retain their brightest color that same season and, when the leaves have fallen, all Winter.  In Spring, they'll shortly burst into leaf as well as into flower.  (Thank goodness, because the wings that were red in the Winter will have turned dull brown by Spring.)  Be patient while the flowers last—and then start the cycle of severe Spring pruning again.

 

Along with the cinnamon-barked maple, Acer griseum, red-winged rose is at its most thrilling if you can site it where you can view the bush with low Winter sun behind it.  The flaking papery cinnamon-colored bark of the maple becomes almost fiery in the low Winter light, as do the translucent pink/red wings of this rose.

Downsides

Untroubled by diseases or pests.

Variants

None other than this variety.  The species itself has the same charming flowers and foliage, but not the unique red wings.

Availability

On-line and in destination nurseries.

Propagation

Cuttings.

Native habitat

China

 
 
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