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Wild Roses: A Gift of Nature

Growing up in the fifties through the seventies, my experience with roses was of the cultivated variety. Famously large delicate blooms with names like “Sterling Silver” and “Peace” were favorites. Today, when visiting large rose gardens you can almost always find an eye-popping collection of shapes, sizes, colors and fragrance.While the sensory overload is heady, more natural alternatives can provide a delightful garden experience. Such are the wild roses.

Perhaps more delicate and certainly understated, wild roses offer a sensory appreciation of nature at its best. A line from Romeo and Juliet, which says “ That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” tells us that a name doesn’t matter to be loved.* So is a wild rose to be appreciated and loved, as lovers of both wild and cultivated roses will agree.

What’s in a Name?

A few wild roses that we know of on Mt. Sutro are neither showy nor named after famous people or places. Simplicity is the essence of these beauties.

California Wildrose (Rosa californica). This rose species grows along the coast and in the foothills throughout California, and in the mountains up to elevations of 6000 feet. It is a deciduous thicket-forming shrub with prickly, curving stems. Each flower is open-faced and generally flat, with five petals in shades of pink from almost white to deep magenta. The flowers are fragrant and may grow singly or in clusters. It produces typical rose hips containing yellow seeds. The plant can survive drought, but grows abundantly in moist soils near water sources. It is often used as a barrier planting in a garden where it can be allowed to form a large thicket. It can go summer dormant (or partially) if it doesn't get enough water. Berries may or may not happen, but California Wild Rose is still a good background foundation plant in leaf.

Flowering season: Spring to summer (dormant in winter)

Light requirements: Sun, part shade, full shade

Size: Max Height/Max width – 8-10 ft./ 10 ft.; spreading

Uses: Hedges; deer resistant; attracts birds, bees and butterflies.

Care: Very easy; annual pruning to keep neat and under control; low-moderate/high watering.

Good Companion Plants: Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Coffeeberry (Frangula californica), Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis).

Wood Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa). Also referred to as dwarf rose and baldhip rose, Rosa gymnocarpa is a species of rose native to western North America. The fragrant flowers are flat and open-faced with five petals in most any shade of pink to almost lavender. Its fruit is a red rose hip containing hard tan seeds. This is a shade-tolerant woodlands plant.

Flowering season: Spring (dormant in winter)

Light requirements: Sun, part shade, full shade

Size: Max Height/Max width – 3-6.6 ft./ 6-9 ft.; spreading

Uses: Deer Resistant; attracts birds, bees and butterflies.

Care: Moderately easy; low watering.

Note: Hips of all wild roses are high in vitamin C and are made into jams, jellies, syrups and teas.**

Where to find the roses. Both Rosa californica and Rosa gymnocarpa can be found at most native plant nurseries including the Sutro Native Plant Nursery at 476 Johnstone Drive, San Francisco, CA 94131 [at the intersection of Behr Ave and Nike Road]. Limited parking is available in spots directly above the nursery marked "Aldea Center Parking Only."

JOIN US AT OUR UPCOMING PLANT SALE ON JUNE 8, 2019 at the nursery! You will find both roses available. In addition to our scheduled plant sale, Sutro Native Plant Nursery is open every Wednesday from 9:30am- 12:30 pm. Stop by to browse our plants, join in with our volunteers, or just to say hi!

* Juliet loved Romeo even though he was a Montague and she was a Capulet

**Please make sure to refrain from collecting wild plants from public lands, follow all landowner guidelines. Collecting is not allowed in Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve.


1. Wikipedia: A Rose By any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet. April 25, 2019

2., California Native Plant Society

3.; California Native Plant Society.

4.; Baldhip Rose – Rosa Gymnocarpa Nutt.

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