The American Rose (Jan 1971)
Rosa foliolosa for Canadian Gardens
Percy H. Wright

Saskatoon, Sask., Canada

Rosa foliolosa, for which there appears to be no popular descriptive name, is a native of restricted areas of Oklahoma and Texas. Perhaps, if it becomes better known, the name "Fernleaf Rose" will become attached to it. The fern-like foliage is one of its greater attractions, and some gardeners may be willing to grow it if only for this characteristic.

I first received a few roots of this unusual rose from a professor of mathematics at Texas State College, who thought that it might have a chance of survival in Saskatchewan, which is more than a thousand miles north of its point of origin. In this judgement he was right, and I soon became keenly appreciative of the qualities of this species rose.

The plants made good growth, and came through the winter with live wood below the snowline. I considered this performance satisfactory. We who live on the prairies have become accustomed to growing in our gardens numerous rose cultivars that are no hardier than this one. If a rose blooms on new wood, it can make a splendid display every year, even though it winter kills back to the snowline. Some of the rugosa species roses are no hardier.

However, it is obvious that a rose, or any other shrub that winter kills to the snowline, will be endangered during winters when there is little or no snow. So it happened that the winter just past (1969-70) was a test winter at (Parkside, not far from Shelbrook) in northern Saskatchewan, where this rose was planted. There was less than two inches of snow until at least mid-February, giving the plants a minimum of insulation during January, the coldest month.

The result was that the plants of Rosa foliolosa were winter killed to ground level. They have now recovered and are growing less vigorously than desired. At least they have survived. Several other rose cultivars which one cannot but admire behaved similarly last winter, which was a relatively mild one.

The "Fernleaf" rose (as I will call it now) has flowers with a tone of true pink, not rose-pink, but rich pink with no blue tones which delight the eye. Wild roses which have such a tone of pink are, as I have observed, extremely rare. Another unusual feature of this rose is that it does not come into bloom until August. This late blooming is an advantage in one way for, by the time the flowers appear, the rose curculio has about ceased its destruction for the season, However, such late flowering is a handicap to the rose breeder. The hips do not ripen in time to make viable seed before the first frosts of autumn. I plan to plant one plant in a container and winter it in the basement, in order to obtain blooms soon enough to use the pollen for my rose breeding program. It would be quite an achievement to transfer this roses's beautiful tone of' pink to a rose fully hardy when grown in Canadian gardens. If the neat foliage could be transferred too, that would mean a second desirable feature.

There are undoubtedly many parts of Canada and the northern tier of States where the "Fernleaf" rose would practically never lack the needed snow cover, and a few other parts where it would survive to the tips whether covered or not. Dozens of Canadian rose growers would probably love to have it in their gardens.

How does it happen that this rose is so nearly hardy in an environment so far north of its native range? One can only surmise. Probably in the days when the glacial ice descended nearly as far south as the northern border of Nebraska, Rosa foliolosa was growing in the same general area as it now occupies, and the winters must have been considerably colder then. I feel that it is a rose peculiarly adapted to drought, which the finely dissected foliage would suggest. The fact that its range is so restricted suggests that it may have come near extinction since the Glacial Age.

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