Where did the Rosa rugosa seedlings go?

Rosa rugosa is in the hot seat in Maine. After several years on the Species Watch List, it recently landed in a worse category: Invasive Terrestrial Plant Species of Special Concern. Beginning January 1, 2024, all R. rugosa sold in Maine—including hybrid roses with any amount of R. rugosa in their parentage—must be labeled with this message: “Invasive Species–Harmful to the Environment.” We are also now required to suggest alternative non-invasive species and provide instructions for the care of rugosa to prevent its spread in the state.

Image: A round-bellied man waves a Rugosa rose while hollering

Over the years some of you cursed us for offering rugosa, while others asked for more. We offered it despite the controversy because we felt that—especially in inland garden settings—the benefits of this rugged beautiful rose outweighed its negative attributes. Herbalists of Western, Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions consider rugosa to be rejuvenating and cooling. The large edible red hips, full of vitamin C, are good eating fresh or for jelly and “rose-apple” jam. Tinctured petals soothe grief.

So whats the problem? Rugosa fruits, seeds and rhizomes can float with the tides and wash up on distant shore lands, where they can form massive colonies and create monocultures along the coast. Some scientists and naturalists have noted this chokes out native plants already doing a good job controlling erosion. Others argue that as our coasts experience more destructive tides and increasingly rapid erosion, rugosa might be one of the best plants for keeping our coastline intact.

We’re no longer offering the straight species. In the meantime, we secured a great supply of roses this year including hybrid rugosas that share many of the same great traits with the seedling, minus the extreme colonizing traits. The downside is the loss of genetic diversity only seedlings can offer. Going forward, we’re planning to offer more native seedling roses of other species, like R. caroliniana and R. virginiana.

The good news for those of you who want the rose hips is that there is a lot of rugosa on the coast of Maine and plenty of petals and fruit to harvest. If you are a private landowner with a good hedge of rugosa, please consider sharing your bounty with those who don’t have access to these areas.