Trailing against the house and also along the path are prairie roses, inviting when in bloom, but equqlly inviting in winter when they brighten up the path with their gay colored berries.

 Jens Jensen



The Illinois Rose, also called Prairie Rose or Michigan Rose (Rosa setigera),  is the latest blooming and the showiest of our native roses.

My native Illinois Rose has never ever bloomed as prolifically as it has this year.

Its long canes can be trained up a trellis–

or it can cascade down a hill–

It can ramble along a fence–


 or it can be a large shrub.

Illinois Rose grows 5-6’ tall and around; its heavily  armed canes can stretch out to 15’ long.

Abundant clusters of fragrant, deep pink blossoms, 2 1/2” wide, centered with golden stamens, cover the canes from late June through mid-July.

I first saw the Illinois Rose in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden many years ago, along with Purple-flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus) and fell in love with both.  Alas, I looked in the plant list of Chicago Botanic Garden today and it is not listed–a shame.

The most spectacular display of the Illinois Rose that I have ever seen was a curtain of the deep pink roses that spilled from  the edge of State Highway 31, between Elgin and St. Charles, down a steep east-facing slope into Ferson Creek Fen.  It was heart-stopping!  I took photos–slides, actually–but the sun was so bright that it completely washed the color out of the roses.

I never again caught it at that spectacular moment.  I did take some photos on July 5, 2011, but, as you can see, the rose has been overcome by many weedy plants, such as Tall Goldenrod, Virginia Creeper, and non-native grasses.

Illinois Rose is found in nature along woodland edges and within savanna clearings, frequently with Iowa Crab and Wild Plum.  It is especially showy in the limestone areas of the lower Des Plaines River valley, declare Swink & Wilhelm in Plants of the Chicago Region.

Illinois Rose was a favorite of Wilhelm Miller, a horticulture professor at the University of Illinois and author of an extension publication called, The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening (1915).  He suggested everyone in Illinois plant an Illinois Rose next to their front door as a symbol of their commitment to the native flora of Illinois. It was a favorite also of Jen Jensen, the Midwest’s premier Landscape Architect, who used it extensively in his designs, particularly along fences or spilling over limestone ledges.

The lustrous, dark green ovate tri-leaflets turn to brilliant orange and scarlet in the fall.  Cherry red, 1/2” round hips ripen in September and last through most of the winter.

But aren’t roses difficult to grow?

Short answer, no.  I planted this rose at least 10 years ago; it has never been fertilized, watered, sprayed with anything, or dead-headed.  Early this spring, a friend repaired and re-painted the trellis; when he re-installed it, he very carefully wove the rose canes through the trellis, a much better look than using little wire plant ties.


In central Indiana the prairie rose runs over farm fences, along the roadside hedges, and in the open glades of the woodlands.  Wherever it grows, it is a lovely bouquet, and its red berries over the snow in winter are as colorful as the rose is in June.

Jens Jensen




Siftings –Jens Jensen

Jens Jensen, Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens–  Robert E. Grese

The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening–Wilhelm Miller

Enjoyable reading.

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