15 Wild Roses For a Woodland Backyard

The news is out: Incorporating native plants in our gardens is a powerful way to support the ecosystem. Love your exotic ornamentals? You can still make an impact by mixing in species native to your area. Rose lovers can do their part by welcoming wild roses into their gardens.

Native species provide critical habitat and nourishment for local fauna, conserve water, and don’t need chemical interventions to stay healthy. Better yet, they are adapted to partial shade and can thrive near larger shrubs and trees. Here are 15 dazzling wild roses for your woodland garden.

Why Wild Roses?

Wild roses, also called species or native roses, are ideal for woodland gardens and large properties. Why should you plant these indigenous species in your garden?

  • Native roses are perfectly adapted to their native climate.
  • They do not require pesticides or fertilizer.
  • They need little to no supplemental water.
  • Wild roses have an open flower form with rich, accessible pollen for bees.
  • Their dense thicket-forming growth gives shelter to nesting birds and other small mammals.
  • They serve as erosion control.
  • They’re hardy and tough, tolerating depleted soils, shade, and fluctuating environmental conditions.
  • They are good understory shrubs for permaculture food forests.
  • Need a privacy hedge? They naturally fill in for a gorgeous (and thorny!) barrier to deter unwanted visitors.
  • They’re attractive and fragrant ornamental plants.

If these perks sound appealing, you’re ready for a woodland flower garden!  Remember that the variety you choose should be native to your location. This means it thrives in your climate, making for a beautiful, low-maintenance plant that contributes to the health of your ecosystem.

Wild Roses for Your Garden

Which wild rose is right for you? Read on for a list of 15 gorgeous North American native roses, with details about each! 

The Nootka Rose

Native to the Nootka Sound, this species is hardy, fragrant, and bears showy mid-pink blooms and red hips.

First recorded in the Nootka Sound of Vancouver Island, Rosa nutkana, or the ‘Nootka Rose,’ is native from Northern New Mexico to Alaska. It often grows along forest edges but tolerates many habitats, including moist shady soils and sunny, dry meadows.

‘Nootka’ produces a showy display of single-petaled mid-pink blooms in May through July, occasionally highlighted by white centers. The intensely fragrant flowers appear singly and in clusters along long, arched stems with pretty gray-green foliage.

Extremely cold-hardy, ‘Nootka’ is unbothered by pests or disease. The leaves have gorgeous fall color. It’s best known for its prolific red hips that decorate the shrub. The hips provide important forage for birds through the winter. Plus, they’re a delicious ingredient for rose-flavored syrups and jellies.

Wood’s Rose

Close-up of a blooming Rosa woodsii in a sunny garden. The flower is solitary, large, beautiful, with five bright pink to deep pink petals that form a charming cup shape. The leaves are pinnate, composed of five to nine oval-shaped leaflets with notches along the edges.The native ‘Wood’s Rose’ is hardy, fragrant, and adorned with lovely pale lilac to deep raspberry blooms and coral-red hips.

‘Wood’s Rose’ is a lovely large shrub native to the western United States and Canada. From late spring to midsummer, it shows off delicate single flowers in clusters of 2-4 blooms in pale lilac to deep raspberry.

Frequently found at high elevations, Rosa woodsii handles winters down to zone 2 (-50 ℉), as well as hot, arid summers. Pollinators love its fragrance and open form with easily accessible stamens.

In winter, ‘Wood’s Rose’ has showy coral-red hips popular with wildlife and beautiful in decor. Its reddish stems add interest year-round. This rose has fibrous roots that grow to form very dense thickets, reaching, on average, 6 feet tall.

‘Climbing Prairie Rose’

Close-up of a flowering Rosa setigera bush in a garden, covered with water drops. The flowers are solitary, medium in size, charming, with five delicate petals, the color of which varies from soft pink to pale pink. The leaves of Rosa setigera are deciduous and pinnate, dark green in color, composed of five to seven oval-shaped leaflets with serrated edges.Native to North America, Rosa setigera features scented pale pink to deep rose flowers.

The only climbing rose native to North America, Rosa setigera, meaning “bristle-bearing rose,” has a wide range across the eastern and central United States and Canada.

From Mid-June to July, this scented climber is decorated with 5-petaled flowers in pale pink to deep rose, fading to blush over time. It can ramble up nearby trees and shrubs, or you can train it to climb a trellis. Alternatively, let its long (up to 12 feet) canes sprawl along the ground, where they re-root to form new plants.

The foliage turns pretty orangey-red in fall. As a dioecious species, the ‘Climbing Prairie Rose’ needs the presence of male and female plants to form hips. It is a host plant for several species of native moths. Feel free to give this one a heavy prune in late fall as blooms grow on new wood in spring.

‘Arctic Rose’

Close-up of a profusely flowering Rosa acicularis plant in a sunny garden. The flowers are solitary and medium in size, pale pink to light purple. Golden stamens protrude from the center of the flowers. The leaves are dark green in color, deciduous and compound, consisting of five to seven leaflets lanceolate with serrated edges.The ‘Arctic Rose’ thrives in Canada and Alaska, showcasing cold tolerance, rosy-pink flowers, and vitamin-rich hips.

The ‘Arctic Rose,’ also called “Prickly Wild Rose,” grows wild in Canada, Alaska, and the Northern Great Plains. It has extraordinary cold tolerance. The dainty flowers are rosy-pink with a delicious honey-cinnamon scent.

Blooms appear in early summer. Later in the season, plants develop flashy tomato-red oval hips. Native Americans traditionally used the hips as a vitamin-rich food source.

With slender scarlet canes and finely-toothed foliage, this hardy rose has a delicate appearance. The foliage is stunning in fall when it takes on a lush golden hue.

‘Swamp Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Rosa palustris in a garden, against a blurred green background. The flower is medium in size, pale pink in color, consists of five slightly wavy petals and bright yellow stamens in the center. The leaves are dark green, compound, composed of oval leaflets with serrated edges. Leaves and flower are covered with water drops.This species is perfect for wet soils, blooms light pink flowers, attracts native bees, and tolerates sandy conditions.

Usually growing in marshy areas near ponds and lakes, the ‘Swamp Rose’ is a great plant for gardeners struggling with wet, boggy soils or rainy climates. This variety stays slightly shorter at 6 feet or less and blooms in early summer with light ballerina-pink flowers.

The foliage turns red in the fall, and the shrub is covered in perfectly round crimson hips. ‘Swamp Rose’ is lightly fragrant and provides special value to North American native bees.

This adaptable beauty tolerates sandy soils and occasional flooding. It prefers full sun for best flowering but will grow in partial shade.

‘California Wild Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Rosa californica in the garden. Charming flowers of medium size with five delicate petals of soft pink. Flower centers are white with golden stamens. The foliage is fresh, bright green, complex, composed of five to seven leaflets with serrated edges.This species has varied flower colors, evergreen foliage, attractive red hips, and offers wildlife habitat.

The ‘California Wild Rose’ produces flowers in varied shades from palest blush to deep maroon. During mild winters, the bushy foliage stays evergreen.

Native to coastal regions of California north through Oregon, Rosa californica prefers moist soil and can go dormant in times of drought. After summer blooms fade, berry-like clusters of red hips steal the show.

Formidable hooked thorns help wildlife hide from predators and provide a safe place for birds to nest. A great thicket-former for erosion control.

‘Dwarf Rose’

Close-up of two blooming Rosa gymnocarpa flowers in a sunny garden, against a blurred green background. The flowers are graceful, medium-sized, cup-shaped, with five delicate petals of rich pink color. The flowers have pale yellow stamens in the centers.The ‘Dwarf Rose’ grows 2-3 feet tall and features bright red hips, woodland charm, and resilience to deer grazing.

If the massive size of most native roses is intimidating, the low-growing ‘Dwarf Rose’ is a perfect substitute. It only reaches 2 to 3 feet high and doesn’t have the dominating habit of its native relatives.

Rosa gymnocarpa, meaning “naked rose,” is so named for how the sepals drop from the base of its bright red hips, leaving them bare at the end of the stem. This timid native prefers partial shade but will grow in deeply shaded wooded areas.

The ‘Dwarf Rose’ has lots of woodland charm, with perfumed small blooms in light pink. Prominent golden stamens beckon the bees. Though small, it’s a tough little rose and is known to bounce back after being munched by deer.

‘Pygmy Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Pygmy Rose in a sunny garden. The flower is medium in size, cupped, solitary, with five pink-purple petals and bright yellow stamens in the center. The leaves are compound, dark green, composed of oval serrated leaflets with reddish edges.Tiny ‘Pygmy Rose’ is a great ground cover for shade with rounded leaves and fragrant pink blooms.

Often growing in the wooded understory of the Sierra Nevadas, tiny ‘Pygmy Rose’ is a little treasure for those who stumble upon it.

 Only reaching 1 to 3 feet tall, Rosa bridgesii has rounded leaves and slightly cupped pink blooms with noticeable veining. Though rare, this wonderfully fragrant native has great potential as a groundcover in a cultivated garden.

‘Pygmy Rose” does well in dappled shade and moist soil. Flowers appear from early to midsummer and attract a variety of pollinators.

‘White Prairie Rose’

Close-up of Rosa foliolosa against dark green foliage. The leaves are compound, composed of oval leaflets with serrated edges. The flower is medium, solitary, consists of five delicate white petals with a slight pinkish blush.With its profusely leafed sets of mini-leaflets, ‘White Prairie Rose’ blooms in delicate white with blush centers and pink veining.

Now for the smallest of our native roses! Cute, spreading ‘White Prairie Rose’ stays between 6 inches to a foot in height and up to 2 feet wide. The single open blooms are white with blush centers and pink veining.

Primarily found in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, Rosa foliolosa likes to grow in prairies and open woodlands with clay soils. It stands up well to intense heat.

Its Latin name means “profusely leafed,” referring to its sets of 9 mini-leaflets. This darling rose has beautiful coloring and is the only white rose native to North America. Little to no thorns make it even sweeter.

‘Smooth Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Rosa blanda against a backdrop of green foliage. The flower is medium in size, with five charming and delicate pale pink petals.This species produces thornless canes that hold deep pink blooms with white centers and yellow stamens.

Named for its thornless canes, ‘Smooth Rose’ has deep pink blooms with white centers and bright yellow stamens. Its bloom time is June to July, followed by plump, showy hips.

Rosa blanda spreads via suckers to form a low-growing thicket. It does best in medium to dry soils. It’s easy to care for, and is a perfect rose for beginners.

This variety looks beautiful at woodland edges or hillsides, providing coverage and color without obstructing the view. It attracts native bees and other pollinators.

‘Carolina Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Rosa carolina flower in a garden, against a backdrop of dark green foliage. The flower is medium, with five delicate petals of a lovely hot pink color creating a cupped appearance. There are golden yellow stamens in the center of the flower.Rosa carolina, a water-wise garden plant, grows wild in the US and Canada and is known for its arid meadow survival.

Rosa carolina grows wild in a broad range of the United States and Canada. It’s a good water-wise garden plant, as its strong taproot reaches deep into the soil for moisture. This species is also called “The Pasture Rose” for its ability to survive in arid open meadows.

Attractive bright pink 2-3 inch blooms open from May to June. In the autumn, the foliage turns an eye-catching fiery red.

‘Carolina Rose’ is one of the most widely available native roses. It doesn’t get too tall (5 feet at the most) but will spread.

‘Small-Leaved Rose’

Pink rose in bloom with yellow stamens at the center of the flower.The small-leafed rose has beautiful pink petals.

This special wild rose has a limited range (it only grows in temperate coastal California), but those who can find it discover a uniquely beautiful member of the Rosa genus.

Rosa minutifolia is named for its adorable tiny (¼ inch) bright-green leaves. This California native has outstanding drought tolerance and has been known to survive for up to 9 months without water! It provides year-round interest with scented pink blooms in spring through early summer, red foliage in fall, and abundant globular hips in winter.

‘Small-Leaved Rose’ is now classified as endangered and is getting rarer in response to the destruction of its native scrublands. The San Diego Botanic Gardens are working on propagation and conservation efforts.

Image Credit: Peter D. Tillman via Flickr (Image use allowed with attribution).

‘Virginia Rose’

Close-up of a blooming Rosa virginiana in a garden. The flowers are medium sized and attractive, with five delicate petals in a delicate purple-pink color, with prominent golden stamens in the center. The leaves are deciduous and compound, consisting of five to seven oval-shaped leaflets with notches along the edges. The foliage is lush, deep green, making an attractive backdrop for the vibrant flowers.This tall, robust rose thrives in moist soils and produces deep pink to fuchsia flowers.

Sometimes confused with the ‘Carolina Rose,’ ‘Virginia Rose’ is a bit taller, more robust, and prefers moist soils. This is a particularly showy native rose with lovely deep pink to fuschia flowers.

Rosa virginiana has a long bloom season (up to 2 months in mid-summer) and serves as a valuable host plant for several moth species. It forms natural hedges, which are favored as a hiding place for wildlife.

This species is equally beautiful when the flowers are spent, and its bright fall color kicks in. A very garden-worthy variety for those who have the space!

‘Prairie Rose’

Close-up of blooming Rosa arkansana in a sunny garden. The flowers are medium sized and elegant, with five delicate petals that range in color from soft pink to pale pink. The leaves are complex, dark green in color, consist of oval leaflets with serrated edges.Due to its drought tolerance, the widely spread ‘Prairie Rose’ in the US is ideal for waterwise gardens.

‘Prairie Rose’ grows across a broad swath of the United States and is often found in dry pastures and sunny meadows. Its drought tolerance makes it ideal for water-wise native gardens.

At only 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, Rosa arkansana is a manageable native. It spreads via rhizomes and resists transplanting, so pick a spot before you plant where it can grow freely.

The open pink flowers have white centers and fade to the palest blush in the sun. Its lush foliage is a rich green in summer and bursts into reddish-orange glory in autumn. Beloved by many birds and pollinators!

‘Shining Rose’

Close-up of a flowering Rosa nitida bush in a garden. The flowers are medium sized and charming, with five delicate petals in vivid violet-pink color. The leaves are compound, with a rough texture, consisting of green oval leaflets with serrated edges.The ‘Shining Rose’ thrives from Quebec to Connecticut, featuring lustrous glossy leaves and vivid violet-pink blooms.

Called the ‘Shining Rose’ for its lustrous glossed leaves, Rosa nitida is found from Quebec to Connecticut. It prefers moist soil and will sucker to form dense colonies, a trait that makes it a good ground cover option.

The blooms are vivid violet-pink and appear in mid-spring atop heavily-bristled canes. The long, pointed leaves put on a showstopping fall performance of purple, yellow, red, and gold.

Persimmon-like hips are enjoyed by wildlife in the winter. This is a truly beautiful and versatile native with a fairly compact habit. Some gardeners even grow it in containers!

Final Thoughts

You can grow beautiful roses while doing your part to support wildlife and a healthy ecosystem. With native roses, you get low-maintenance garden plants that double as food and shelter for pollinators and small mammals.

For the most benefits, choose species that grow naturally in your region. These have coevolved with local flora and fauna and are already adapted to your climate’s challenges. Come join the wild rose party! Beautiful blooms and biodiversity are hard to beat.

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