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by Mark M. Hall Homesteaders are perpetually waging war with something, whether it is bugs, weeds, or weather. Often there is open conflict with all three of these adversaries at one time. As a longtime homesteader, my father fought countless skirmishes over the years against many such foes. However, the toughest aggressor was the dreaded Rosa multiflora, more commonly known as the multiflora rose.
Multiflora rose is a thorny shrub in the Rosaceae family that rapidly forms a dense thicket up to 10 feet in height. Unfortunately, it thrives in virtually any soil and can climb into the lower branches of trees. A horde of bright green stems, or canes, extend as far as 15 feet, bend down to the ground, and establish legions of new root systems. Thanks to this continuous cycle, multiple layers of growth are added at seemingly breakneck speed, making the formidable thicket virtually impenetrable. Incredibly, these thickets can expand at the alarming rate of 2 feet per week in mid-summer.
Not only does this prolific shrub increase quickly in size, but also in number. On average, a multiflora rose plant produces an eye-popping one million seeds per year, and their viability in the ground lasts up to 20 years. Birds dine on the seeds and ultimately populate the landscape far and wide with their droppings. Consumed also are its small, red fruits called hips, in which the seeds are found. Turning leathery in the fall, hips persist all winter long, protecting seeds from the cold, and continuing to attract birds.
To avoid the onset of these huge brambles, it is beneficial to know how to correctly identify the multiflora rose. Its many fragrant clusters of white or white-pink flowers bloom from May to June. Each one measures roughly an inch across, is supported by a stalk, and has notched petals. Its alternate, pinnately compound leaves consist of many sharply toothed, football-shaped leaflets. Also, it has multiple bright green stems, which are usually armed with curved thorns. Because of the thorny thickets and speedy growth habits of the multiflora rose, it is sometimes confused with other roses and prickly shrubs. However, the plant can always be differentiated by fringed leaflike projections, or stipules, at the leaf base, the bunches of small hips that stay around during winter, and the upright, curving stems.
Multiflora rose has drawn plenty of negative attention from state and local governments. It is officially classified as an invasive species and/or a noxious weed in numerous states, including my home state of Ohio. Taken together, this means it is widely considered to be a non-native plant that is detrimental to animals or the environment. Often the use of this plant is severely restricted, and in at least four states, it is banned outright. Here, a licensed nursery may use multiflora rose as rootstocks for other plants, but a permit must be obtained from the Ohio Department of Agriculture for any other usage.
The multiflora rose did not always cause so many problems. In fact, early impressions in America of this undesirable plant were quite favorable. Arriving from Japan in the 1860s, the multiflora rose was first introduced to the United States as a rootstock for garden roses. In the 1930s, farmers were encouraged by the United States Soil Conservation Service to plant them for the purpose of erosion control. In time, it was repurposed in some highway medians as a barrier for avoiding crashes and for reducing headlight glare.
Control of the multiflora rose is imperative. Because of the harmful results of its rapid growth, complete removal of the plant is recommended. To do so is not a quick or easy undertaking, but with a combination of tactics, superiority over the threatening shrub can indeed be gained. A winning strategy begins with frequent cuttings with a brush hog over a 2- to 4-year period. In locations without desired vegetation nearby, this mechanical method can be followed by the application of a translocated herbicide, such as triclopyr or glyphosate. Absorbed during photosynthesis, this treatment effectively results in the demise of the plant. The final part of the plan is a vigilant, painstaking effort to identify and pull seedlings by hand, making sure to remove the roots in their entirety.
There is an alternative shrub-cutting option to consider also. A herd of hungry goats gladly makes a meal out of even the worst multiflora rose thickets. For individuals desiring the use of this method yet not interested in purchasing these nannies, goat rental is an option in many areas. Although, at several hundred dollars apiece per acre, their rental charge is not cheap.
After several decades, I am ready to rumble with our own multiflora rose plant. It was once a barely noticeable little shrub nestled among the foliage along the side of our creek. Not surprisingly, however, it soon exploded into a nasty thicket. Now, years later, it has annexed a sizable portion of the yard and has taken prisoner the bushes on either side. The thorns snag me every time I pass nearby on the riding lawn mower. Its removal has been put off far too long, resulting in a lot of extra work in doing so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to thin out the thicket with the brush hog and get to the root of the problem.
- Additional Weed Regulations in Ohio. Retrieved July 2022 from:
- Multiflora Rose Identification and Control. (2018, September 18) Retrieved July 2022 from: https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds/weed-identification/multiflora-rose.aspx
- Wurzbacher, S., Gover, A., Jackson, D., and Templeton, S. (2020, February 24). Multiflora Rose. Retrieved July 2022 from: https://extension.psu.edu/multiflora-rose
MARK M. HALL lives with his wife, their three daughters, and numerous pets on a four-acre slice of paradise in rural Ohio. Mark is a veteran small-scale chicken farmer and an avid observer of nature. As a freelance writer, he endeavors to share his life experiences in a manner that is both informative and entertaining.
Originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.