Question about identifying wild roses

Yesterday my wife and I were driving around in the Cascade foothills east of Eugene/Springfield. I found some wild roses and was wondering how to go about identifying what species they were. I did a google search and came up with a Woodsii, Pisocarpus, Nutkana and Gymnocarpa as being native to Oregon. None of the roses had blooms yet and I assuming that bloom shape and fragrance should be primary factors used in identification.

It could be interesting to play around with them in some breeding if I could get some to root and bloom next year.


R. nutkana is the most likely find, but there is definitely R. gymnocarpa around as well. The latter blooms much later than R. nutkana, which will start to bloom in a couple weeks.

Far less likely to run into R. woodsii, and I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered R. pisocarpa. Wait a sec, just looked at some of the photos on MHF and now I am sure I’bve seen R. pisocarpa in the area as well. Its REALLY difficult to tell one species from the other, and I’m just not well enough trained to discern between these species.


It’s hard to find consensus among experts regarding species Paul. You’re not alone.

Paul and Robert:

I looked at the pictures in HMF, but since I didn’t get any cuttings I had a hard time remembering exactly what I saw. Will make another trip in a couple of weeks after they are in bloom and gather some cuttings and take photos.

Have either of you done any work with species roses? That’s probably a dumb question with as much work you two have done. I think it would be kind of an interesting sideline to fool around with. Being new at this hobby, I’m finding all sorts of things I would like to try without reinventing the wheel.

I have recently begun working with R. nutkana, R. gymnocarpa and what I think is R. woodsii fendleri collected from Ontario, Canada. I have also done some work with R. arkansana and R. foliolosa. I have small plants of R. arkansana and the tentative R. woodsii in pots you can have if you like.

R. foliolosa is a very curious species to work with; its given me some interesting shrubs.

Hi Jeff, much of my stuff is tied to species. I’m working at the tetra and diploid levels.

I’ve got some new species I’m exploring . It’s fascinating but a long way from anything commercial. Best to keep that in perspective. These are long term projects.

Commercial would be nice, but that’s not really in the cards for me. I know that it can be very tough and expensive to get into that realm. The diversity of what one can produce from the crosses is facinating. Maybe commercial production will happen in the future, but for now this is a hobby.


Thanks for the offer. Right now I’m still trying to find room for some of the “store bought” plants I have.

I gave up on ID’ing species here a long time ago. they seem to have a lot of mixed traits, and I think a lot of them along the trails I see are interspecies muts, lol. I even see some that are notabley sterile with rather strange habits.


I think there is great likelihood that there is considerable hybridity between the species around here. I look at groups of what are supposed to be R. nutkana planted in a park near me (they planted about 120 plants of it to repopulate the park) and I swear there looks to be at least five different types in these plantings, all of which look similar, but with significant variations. It frustrates me that I am making hybrids with some of these and all I can do is hope that I am calling them by the right names. I won’t be surprised that in 20 years someone will look at my work and say “Hey, that isn’t R. nutkana you used!” and my documentation will be all effed up!

/me laughs

We do the best we can!

PS: I have a lot of things in bloom in the breeding house right now…anything you want pollen from?

After reading this thread it sort of makes me wonder if those that made the original classifications were more or less just guessing about the identification based on the location where the rose was found. It’s good to know I’m not the only one that has problems identifying them. I should say in my case I really don’t have a clue.

It’s bad, but not that bad! Yes, central Oregon is famed for its species “diversity” or perhaps species intergrading. Intergraded species have driven botanists to drink for more than a century. Species require that we wrap our minds around the notion that a species is a population of individuals. Individuals are not identical to one another (except, sometimes, if they are in the same thicket). They aren’t cookie cutter clones. Think of a range of individuals distributed on a bell curve. Some species are more variable that others. Some will jump out, others will have so much variation all you can do is rule out that is isn’t something else, and what is left is this species.

Rosa gymnacarpa is completely distinct. You can ID it or rule it out. It doesn’t form a thicket and lives in the understory. The buds are very distinct and tiny, and the hips are unmistakable, small, tannish orange, and with deciduous sepals. HMF has good pictures.

Although the blooms are helpful for identification, it isn’t because of their outward appearance, the way we can distinguish cultivars. It’s more about the way the sepals coat the calyx tube (do they extend beyond the bud? Are they long and do they cross? Do they bloom in clusters? Of how many? When do they start to bloom and when do they stop?) In my brief experience documenting our local species, you need to observe (ideally photograph) all of these:

plant habit

foliage top and bottom, surface texture, leaf margin and glandularity

buds and form of inflorescence

armature - on laterals, on old basals and on new basals.

bloom scent

hip shape and timing of formation

Rather than despair, it’s much easier to use the tools of native flora groups, herbaria and botanical gardens and rule out what is and isn’t found in that area. Look for a native plant society plant list in your area. That will narrow the field, so you’re not looking for a species that no one has found in that area in 140 years of looking. I have used local native plant lists in two counties to locate stands of species roses, and they are reliable and helpful.

I particularly like the herbarium descriptions linked below and the Oregon State plant list:



Great web site. Thanks for the information.

Yes, thanks Cass!

I know my swamp rose is a whole lot different than the one in commerce.

It looks more like the one in Roses (The Pan Garden Plants Series) by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix.

I got it from a user at gardenweb several years ago, and he told me it was growing in the dirt of a telephone pole.

i believe it.

It’s a tough little rose. I have a seedling that’s been in water for 8 months. Still alive and even rooting.

But it’s not invasive.

And i consider my swamp rose more swamp rose than the one in commerce because of the stipules.

There almost non-existant, where as the other one has a slight bit of a wing. That means, to me at least, that the one in commerce is closer to a hybrid.

The color of my little rose is more closer to the one in Martin and Rix. The one in commerce is a deeper saturated rugosa-pink.


Flower color in any one “species” group is extremely variable and not to be used to identify an individual. I have seen very pale individuals of R. palustris and very deep pink ones, all within meters of each other. R. palustris is quite unique and unmistakable and almost always found growing with its roots in water. Note that it is also native only to the Eastern half of the continent. Where did the one you were given come from?

I also got my palustris from a user at GW several years ago. It sounds like the same story Enrique. It was suggested I might try it as a source for smoothness.

It turned out to be what some nurseries distribute as, R. palustris ‘scandens’.

Palustris scandens has an unusually long bloom cycle in my climate and is mostly smooth. I suspect it is of hybrid origin. It almost never makes hips here.

I’ve tried using it a bit as pollen parent but not for the past couple of seasons. The few seedlings I got out of it were extremely weak. Most died.

This said, I kept one seedling, basically ignoring it while it struggled to live. There are several things atypical about it. First it took two years to germinate.

It’s a seedling out of Country Dancer which will set a hip with almost anything. The growth habit, shape of the leaves, atypical inflorescence lead me to be 90% sure it’s a hybrid.

This season it is finally gaining a little vigor.



I got it from Richmond, Virginia. From who? I don’t remember and i have spent time looking for him. But it’s really nice. Spreading, but not invasive.


my swamp rose is very thorny. Not viciously, but nevertheless it’s full of thorns.

I can provide it to a few people if they want it. I pulled it out from my garden to make room, and it still grows.

I don’t want to destroy it, just make room–

Enrique, is your palustris single or semi-double?

Scandens is semi-double, mostly, but not totally, smooth for me.

Mine is the single form.

I had, for a while, confused with R. virginia. But the sepals and ability to root in water gives it away.

Here’s a link of it, still on the listing for R. virginia.

It’s a lovely color of pale lavender-pink.


I think I’ve identified the species rose I was asking about. I’m pretty sure it’s R. Gymnocarpa. Cass, David and some others had some great pictures on HMF that really helped.

I added a link to a page on my web site if you care to take a look. I don’t know how to add pictures here.

I did get some pollen from it and plan to spread a little around when I get a couple of blooms on a Cal Poly.