Prairie rose is a high-climbing, trailing, or leaning woody vine. In the open, it is a dense shrub.
Leaves are alternate, feather-compound, leaflets commonly 3 on old stems, on new stems 3 or 5; leaflets lance- to egg-shaped, toothed, tip pointed, lateral leaflets short-stemmed, terminal leaflet long-stemmed. Stipules at leaf bases have smooth margins.
Twigs are flexible, smooth, green or reddish, thorns straw-colored or pale brown, ¼ inch long, often in pairs at the nodes.
Bark on older stems is grayish-brown with scattered thorns.
Flowers late May–June, many-flowered clusters on new stems, large, to 3¼ inches wide, heavily perfumed; petals 5, pink (rarely white); stamens numerous.
Fruits in September, red “hips,” about 3/8 inch long, fleshy, round to broadest above the middle, usually with gland-tipped hairs.
Similar species: Thirteen species in the genus Rosa have been recorded in Missouri. Below are two of the most widespread of these.
Pasture rose (Rosa carolina) is the most common low-growing rose with highly prickly stems (R. setigera has well-spaced thorns). Height, leaflet shape, and prickliness vary. Flowers usually solitary; otherwise very similar to R. setigera (pink, rarely white, very fragrant). Leaves compound with 3, 5, or 7 leaflets. Leaflets round, oblong, or oval, small, finely toothed. The stipules at the base of stem leaves are winged. Look for it in glades, fields, prairies, fencerows, rights-of-way; statewide.
The invasive, nonnative multiflora rose (R. multiflora) has comblike hairs on the stipules at the leaf bases; flowers smaller, in clusters, with white petals, and more leaflets per compound leaf.
Height: to 4 feet, grown in the open; stem length: 6–15 feet.
This native rose occurs in moist ground and rocky places along streams and spring branches, moist thickets, low open woodland, pastures, prairie thickets, clearings, fencerows, and along roadsides. Although it is called "prairie rose," "climbing rose" is more appropriate, as it is more often found climbing into tall bushes and low trees near woodlands.
Showy, fragrant flowers, pretty fruits, and deep rose-red autumn foliage make this a good native choice for landscaping. It can be used as an informal hedge or barrier, or in shrub borders, rose gardens, and naturalized thickets. Good as a cut flower. Resists disease better than hybrid roses.
Deer browse the twigs and fruit, and a variety of songbirds, as well as greater prairie-chicken, ruffed grouse, and quail, eat the fruits. When it forms dense thickets, prairie rose makes good cover for small birds and mammals. Several insects visit the flowers; others eat the leaves.
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.