American Roses

Shrub rose, Rosa ‘Meipeporia’. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

In 1986, the rose became America’s national flower, succeeding where more than 70 bills had previously failed

The rose’s top competitor was the marigold, a cause that had been championed for years by the late Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen who noted it was native to America and thrived in all 50 states. An aide for House Minority Leader Bob Michel called the Senate’s approval of the rose resolution “an outrage,” having taken up the marigold cause in Dirksen’s stead. Eventually, he conceded, pointing to “overwhelming surge of popular support” for the rose.

Marigolds in bloom. Photo by Tom Incrocci.

While the rose is an international symbol of beauty and courage, it is an interesting choice for America’s flower considering most popular roses are cultivars of European and Asian species. Aside from the marigold, several other previous contenders like the dogwood were species native to America.

While not as ubiquitous in our culture as more popular roses, there are roses native to America. And Missouri.  These native species have a range of growth forms, can be found in a variety of different habitats, are resistant to the most common rose diseases, and support local insect and bird populations. 

If you want to add native roses to your garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening recommends the following varieties.

Rosa setigera. Photo by Steve R. Turner.

Prairie rose, rosa setigera

Appearance: Sometimes called climbing prairie rose, this scrambling shrub will typically reach 4 feet tall but can climb 12-15 feet high on a support structure like a trellis. Wide, pink blooms appear in early summer and attract bumblebees and other pollinators. The flowers are followed by showy, red rose hips. In fall, the foliage turns shades of maroon and bright red.

Native habitat: The prairie rose grows throughout the state in a wide variety of habitats including mesic forests, prairies, glades, along streambanks, on bluff tops and in disturbed habitats such as roadsides, pastures, and fencerows.

Growing tips:  While this rose can tolerate partly shaded conditions, it has the best display of flowers and resistance to foliar diseases in full sun.

Rosa palustris, Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder.

Swamp rose, rosa palustris

Appearance: Mature shrubs have an upright growth form with arching branches and will reach 3-6 feet tall with a similar spread. The fragrant, pink flowers bloom from early to mid-summer. Red hips and red fall color offer additional interest.

Native habitat: This moisture-loving rose can be found growing in swamps and bottomlands in the southeastern corner of the state. 

Growing tips: The swamp rose is perfect for an area that stays consistently moist but still gets plenty of sun, such as the edge of a pond. It prefers acidic soils.

Carolina rose, Photo by Steve Frank

Carolina rose, rosa carolina

Also called pasture rose, this is the most common wild rose in Missouri. 

Appearance: Mature plants tend to be low-growing and will typically reach 1-3 feet tall with a similar spread, although individuals have been known to reach 6 feet tall. Similar in appearance to prairie rose, they can be distinguished by the number of leaflets per leaf– five to seven, compared to the prairie rose’s three to five. The Carolina rose also has a fused and protruding pistil, compared to the swamp roses short, button-like pistil.

Native habitat: This species can be found throughout the state in both wet and dry habitats including prairies, glades, forest openings, bluff tops, and streambanks, as well as disturbed sites like roadsides, ditches, fields, and fencerows. 

Growing tips: This rose also likes full sun and prefers medium to wet, well-drained soil.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

Justine Kandra

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