Like all flowers, wild roses have good years and bad years as far as flowering is concerned. The current season so far is spectacular.
I visited the headquarters of The Woodland Trust the other day, a journey that took me through the heart of England, cross-country from Hampshire to Grantham in Lincolnshire. Fortunately for me (but not for him) fellow BPOTY and NPL director Rob Read was driving because the weather was atrocious. Our road trip took us through a seemingly endless continuum of anonymous-looking towns, which did little to lift our spirits. However, there was a consolation: hedgerows everywhere seemed to be festooned with native roses in full bloom and I was inevitably reminded of Jerry Chesnut’s lyrics to the song immortalised first by George Jones, then by Elvis Costello. 2019 was indeed turning out to be a good year for the roses – in fact the best I can remember.
Assuming you have got some decent hedgerows near you then now is the time to go and check what species you have on your doorstep. If you refer to Stace, the botanical Bible, you will discover an array of species and a baffling selection of hybrids, so the prospect of identifying anything can seem a bit daunting. If you are new to the subject I suggest you start your rose challenge by looking out for four species that are common and widespread, at least in the southern half of Britain with which I am most familiar. And if you can’t get out straight away, the rose season will continue for a few weeks more – as the song says ‘many blooms still linger there’.
Above: DOG-ROSE Rosa canina. This scrambling, variable shrub has long, arching stems that bear curved thorns. Its flowers are 3-5cm across, fragrant and have 5 pale pink petals and yellow stamens; they are borne in clusters of up to 4 flowers and appear in June and July. The fruits are red, egg-shaped hips that typically shed their sepals before they ripen. The leaves comprise 5-7 hairless leaflets. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: FIELD-ROSE Rosa arvensis. This clump-forming shrub has weak, trailing and purplish stems that carry small numbers of curved thorns. Its flowers are 3-5cm across with 5 white petals and styles united to form a column at least as long as the stamens; blooms appear in clusters of up to 6 flowers from July to August. The fruits are rounded to ovoid red hips, with sepals that do not persist. The leaves have 5-7 oval leaflets. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: SWEET-BRIAR Rosa rubiginosa. This compact shrub has upright stems that bear short, curved thorns, bristles and glands. The flowers are 2-3cm across and pink and appear in clusters of up to 3 flowers in June and July. The fruits are ovoid, red hips with persisting sepals. The leaves have 5-7 oval, toothed and sweet-smelling (apple-scented) leaflets. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: HARSH DOWNY-ROSE Rosa tomentosa. This dense shrub has arching stems that bear rather straight thorns. The flowers are 3-4cm across with 5 pink or white petals, and appear in clusters of up to 5 flowers in June and July. The fruits are rounded, red hips that are covered with bristles. The leaves comprise 5-7 oval leaflets that are downy on both sides. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: In addition, there are a couple of other species that you might encounter: JAPANESE ROSE Rosa rugosa (left) is a planted and naturalised shrub found on roadside verges. It has upright stems bearing rather straight thorns. The lurid flowers are 6-9cm across with 5 pinkish purple or white petals and appear from June to August. The fruits are spherical, red hips, 2-5cm across and the leaves comprise 5-9 oval leaflets that are shiny above. BURNET ROSE Rosa pimpinellifolia (right) is a clump-forming shrub with suckers and stems that bear numerous straight thorns and stiff bristles. It is associated mainly with sand dunes, chalk grasslands and heaths. The flowers are 3-5cm across with 5 creamy white petals; they are usually solitary and appear from May to July. The fruits are spherical, 5-6mm across and purplish black when ripe. The leaves comprise 7-11 oval leaflets. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: Once you become proficient in the rose identification department you can start looking out for more esoteric species such as Small-flowered Sweet-briar Rosa micrantha. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: The leaves of Rosa species sometimes give clues to identification: for example, some are shiny, others are downy and a few are scented. This is Dog-rose. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd
Above: For rose-enthusiasts the season does not end with the fading of the last flower: there are all those lovely rosehips to look forward too, each with species-specific characters to aid identification. For example those of Sweet-briar (inset) retain their sepals, whereas those of Dog-rose (main picture) lose them. Paul Sterry/Nature Photographers Ltd