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The Multiflora rose, pest or pretty?

The multiflora rose is pretty but persistent.
The multiflora rose is pretty but persistent.
Kim Willis

Like many other plants that are now nuisances the multiflora rose was once promoted by soil conservation districts as a good plant for living hedges, erosion control and for encouraging wildlife. Unfortunately in many areas of the country it is now seen as a noxious invader, taking over acres of land if allowed. If you have ever tried to walk through a patch of multiflora rose you’ll know its prickly stems can cause a lot of pain.

The multiflora rose is native to Asia and was first brought to this country as a rootstock to graft less hardy roses unto and for some limited ornamental use in the early 1800’s. It was in the 1950’s to early 60’s that its widespread promotion as a conservation plant caused its proliferation across the country. While it still has some good attributes its ability to spread by seed and by runners makes it a headache for many landowners.

Multiflora roses form an upright bush 6-10 feet all with arching branches when growing in an open area. It will also scramble up trees and buildings sometimes 16-20 feet in the air. When the rose is blooming in June a tree covered in multiflora rose can be a pretty sight, but the vigorous vine can take a toll on tree health.

Multiflora roses send out suckers which grow into new plants and canes will also root if they arch over enough to touch the ground. Soon one plant becomes an impenetrable thicket if it isn’t controlled. The canes are covered with small, stiff thorns and one needs thick gloves to deal with the plants. Trying to walk through a multiflora thicket is painful. Goats will eat the canes but most cattle and horses avoid them.

Multiflora rose has typical rose compound leaves of small oval blades with serrated edges. A distinguishing characteristic of the multiflora rose is a group of small whitish hairs called stipules which grow at the base of each leaf stem, just before its conjunction with the plant stem.

In June multiflora rose is covered with clusters of small white 5 petal flowers with gold stamens in the center. As the flowers age they may show pink tints. The roses have a moderately strong rose scent. Each flower turns into a tiny red rose hip that will persist all winter on the plant if the birds don’t eat them. Birds do like the hips, which is a one reason this rose spreads so rapidly. Deer will also pick the hips off the plant as high as they can reach.

Multiflora rose isn’t fussy about soil although it won’t grow in water logged swampy areas. It likes full sun but can be seen growing in partly shaded locations. It may die to the ground in a hard winter but will almost always return from the roots as it is extremely hardy.

You can invite the multiflora rose into the garden if you religiously cut out suckers. It is quite pretty in June when it blooms and the pleasant scent drifts a long ways. After blooming trim it back hard to a pleasing shape. It even be trimmed into that hedge it was once promoted to be. If the rose does get out of hand frequent mowing or trimming of unwanted canes will cause the canes to die. Some fertilizer in early spring will make slightly larger and more prolific flowers.

Do keep multiflora rose out of trees, especially those ornamental trees you favor. It can ruin the looks of the tree and cause the tree stress from competition for light and water. To keep multiflora rose out of pastures and other unwanted places frequent mowing or trimming off the canes is recommended. (Or get some goats.) Herbicides will also work, but cause more damage to the surrounding environment and creatures that might frequent the rose.

Here are some additional articles you may want to read.

Herbal uses of the rose

How to grow Jacobs Ladder

How to help save the Monarch Butterfly

You can contact the author by emailing her at You can see her garden blog at

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