American Rose Annual, (1937) 22: 47-48
The True Dwarf Prairie Rose
Percy H. Wright

Wilkie, Saskatchewan, Canada
EDITORS' NOTE.—From the Saskatchewan prairies, far north of the United States boundary, come these details of a rose that endures -60°, is dwarf and drought-enduring, and a so-called "everbloomer." The hybridists seem to have overlooked it, and the botanists are not agreed about it. Bailey synonymizes it also with Rosa heliophila. In Miss Willmott's "Genus Rosa" is a superb color plate of it as R. pratincola. Its "author," E. L. Greene, says it is "one of the commonest of North American roses ... most abundantly inhabiting a very extensive range ... the peculiar rose of the rich grassy prairies." It would seem time to get it into gardens!

LONG ago, the title "the Prairie rose" was given to Rosa setigera, but this name should properly have been reserved for a species of very different habitat and characteristics.

Rosa suffulta Greene, otherwise R. pratincola Greene, grows wild over a large area in the American and Canadian plains. It is, perhaps, one of the most drought-withstanding rose species in the world, occurring even on the driest knolls. It is, therefore, naturally a dwarf rose, sometimes blooming when only two to three inches high. The flowers and seed-hips, however, are not dwarf, but rather larger than those of some of the bush species. I have never observed it over a foot high, even on moist lands.

In my district, at Wilkie, Saskatchewan, about 250 miles north of the international boundary, it is the only rose growing in the open. As winter temperatures here sometimes sink to -60° Fahr., even without snow-covering, the local strain of it is of the utmost hardiness. R. blanda occurs in the ravines in the same area; on cool, northerly slopes, we find R. acicularis.

The flower of this dwarf denizen of the cold prairies varies from deep pink to white, with occasionally a cream tint in the center. Marvel of marvels, this humblest of roses is everblooming! It will normally bloom and bear seed after the infestation of the snout-beetle is over, and so severe is that pest in dry years that sometimes such late blooms will be the only ones to be spared. I have seen this rose in bloom even at the doors of winter, on roadsides, or elsewhere where cultivation had destroyed the early growth. The everblooming habit of this species is surely evidence that the rose genus is not limited but that the everblooming habit is deeply ingrained in it.

In one district of southern Saskatchewan a field of many acres of a double form of this rose has been discovered. The flower is nicely double, a delicate shell-pink in color, and very well formed for a species rose. Most double wild roses of North America are of little value, but this strain seems to be an exception. I have no right to name it, but in correspondence have called it the Woodrow rose. It and its species are evidently difficult to transplant, partly because the stems are very fine and hence subject to drying out, and partly because it is so very deep rooted. In digging it from the wild, one cannot easily get more than a small proportion of the root.

The species has characteristics which it would be desirable to transfer to domestic roses. Unfortunately, it does not cross readily, although F. L. Skinner, of Dropmore, Manitoba, has successfully used its pollen on R. rugosa. In 1935 I secured over 1,400 seeds from pollinations with it of the Rugosa variety Hansa. Thirty-nine of these germinated in April, 1936. One plant grew three feet high, and another bloomed but was only a single. Such early returns are commonplace with tender roses, but I have not heard of them with northern species. This plant certainly could not have bloomed in the first year of its life had it not inherited from one or both parents the capacity for late blooming. It set no seed; Mr. Skinner's plants are also sterile.

The foliage of my thirty-nine hybrids formed a most interesting study. Variation was all the way from Suffulta to Rugosa, and with some the size of the Rugosa leaf was combined with the type of Suffulta. With 1,400 seeds I should pretty well be able to explore all the ranges of possibility.

In 1934 I got results from the use of Suffulta pollen on Rubrifolia, but cannot now prove it, as, unfortunately, mice ate the seeds. I feel sure that the Prairie rose will pollinate more of the northerly species than has been thought, and I intend to try it out on as many as I can. It has, however, never been known to accept foreign pollen. It is a tetraploid like R. spinosissima and its altaica form and most Hybrid Perpetuals and Hybrid Teas.

It is about the only rose I know likely to bring dwarfness and some everblooming habit, without loss of hardiness, into domestic varieties. In other words, it gives great promise.