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Why Native Roses are the Best Winter Bird Plant

Why Native Roses are the Best Winter Bird Plant

Why Native Roses are the Best Winter Bird Plant

Do you cut spent blooms from your rose bushes during the summer?

Most people grow roses for their blooms, fragrance, or for the memory of a loved one. I grow them for the birds. Have you ever seen birds around your roses? Probably not, but I promise you that birds do love them. First you need the right type of rose for the birds. Wild native roses.

Rose hips are for the birds

Rose hips are the fruit that a rose makes after blooming. Roses bloom in spring or early summer. Once those blooms are pollinated, they begin to fade and we come along and clip off the blooms. But, if we were to leave the blooms on the plant it would become rose hips.

Rose hips are amazing wildlife food. They are like a vitamin pill for birds. Rose hips contain one of the highest concentration of vitamin C of the fruits. They also have vitamin A, B-3, D,E and zinc. In addition to vitamins, they are also high in protein.

Rose hips contain one of the highest concentration of vitamin C of the fruits. Click To Tweet

Rose hips are a bit on the sour side due to all that vitamin C. They also are rock hard until softened by frost. So this is one of the last things that a bird will eat. If the birds don’t want to eat it, why is it good bird food? It’s because they wait to eat it last.

Because rose hips are not a prefered food, they are still on the bushes in late winter when other food is gone. So, when the winter is the harshest and the food is scarce the birds still have this vitamin packed treat!

Songbirds eat the smaller rose hips but this winter treat is also loved by the ground birds like grouse, pheasants, and quail. And if you like blue birds, they eat rose hips too!

Thorns are for the birds

Roses don’t just provide winter food for birds, they also provide winter cover. Most native roses grow in dense thickets. Add thorns to these dense thickets and only tiny creatures will be able to enter.

This protection is especially important in winter when leaves are no longer on trees making birds more exposed. A bird can sleep in a rose thicket and not worry about any large predator!

I keep saying ‘native roses’ and not just roses. Our fancy roses are just that, too fancy for the birds. They tend to be shaped into small bushes which are very delicate. Birds need wild roses growing in big tangles. While many garden roses produce hips that a bird will eat, we prevent rose hips from forming because we cut the  blooms.

You can keep your fancy roses, but why not take a corner of your backyard and grow a wild rose too? Leave the flowers alone for the birds and save yourself some pruning time.

There are native roses for all areas and soil types of the United States and Canada! Here are just a few.

For those in the West

Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis) – native to Alaska, through the Rockies into Colorado and can be found in Michigan. Its pink blooms appear in  late spring or early summer. About 4 feet tall, the prickly rose is not picky about soil or moisture It tolerates rocky soils and stream banks.

Pygmy Rose (Rosa bridgesii) – native to southern Sierra Nevada to Cascades range. This is a dwarf rose. This low growing rose is found in the understory of the forest and on rock ledges often with the giant sequoia. It blooms pink and tends to have clusters of up to 5 flowers.

California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) – native west of the Sierra Nevada. This rose forms 7 foot upright thickets throughout the state of California. It tolerates deep shade and drought, but prefers part shade and moist soil. This rose’s hooked thorns are the keys in preventing predators from reaching wildlife inside the thicket.

Little Wild Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) – native to California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and western Canada. This rose stays small, mostly under 3 feet. Don’t plant this rose in soggy soil or in full sun, its great for a shaded garden. This rose doesn’t get as dense as other wild roses.

Cluster Rose (Rosa pisocarpa) – native to Northern California into Canada.  Topping out at 10 feet and arching, this rose blooms in clusters, instead of the more common single flower. It also has a second bloom in the autumn following its summer bloom. It has one of the largest yields of rose hips, enough for all to share and it has very sharp thorns allowing birds to hide within. This is a rose for wetlands, and will thrive where other roses would drown, even in waterlogged soil.

Smooth Rose (Rosa blanda) – native to Eastern Canada south into Missouri and west to Montana this rose is almost thornless. Its flowers are light pink and have a nice scent. It can grow three to five feet tall. This rose is the host plant to the Apple Sphinx Moth (Sphinx gordius).

Desert Rose (Rosa stellata) – native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona this little rose tops out at two feet. Its blooms are a deep rose color, almost purple. It grows in dry rocky soils.

Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii) – native to Canada and entire United States except for the Southeast, this shrub can top out at 6 feet but tends to stay closer to three. It has small pink flowers that have a strong sweet scent covering the bush for weeks. This is a thick rose whose thorns prevent large predators from catching small critters inside. It even has wonderful fall color. One of the most adaptable roses, it grows in almost all climates and conditions – even shade!

For those in the East

Prairie Wild Rose (Rosa arkansana) – native to Eastern Canada to Texas and New Mexico this rose flowers in groups of four. The blooms can be pure white to a deep pink giving the plant nice variety. The prairie rose can grow in part shade to full sun as it likes forest edges. This small rose gets to be about a foot high and likes dry sandy soil.

Smooth Rose (Rosa blanda) – native to Eastern Canada south into Missouri and west to Montana, its blooms are similar to the prairie rose but the smooth rose is much larger. This rose can grow four to seven feet and it also loves forest edges. It is happy in sun or part shade and likes moist soil. New growth does not have any thorns.

Carolina rose (Rosa carolina) – native to the eastern United States and west into Texas. A rose for full sun, the Carolina rose gets 6 feet tall and likes to sprawl, but is a slow spreader. It likes moist soil growing along streams and in low areas, but tolerates dry better than most eastern roses.

Shining Rose (Rosa nitida) – native to Northeastern United States into Canada. This northern rose is found in bogs and swamps. Growing to 3 feet it has bright pink blooms. This rose also has beautiful fall color turning a brilliant red.

Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) – native east of the Mississippi north into Canada and stands about 6 feet tall. This is another rose for wet soils and full sun. They won’t grow in standing water, but will be fine if an area floods occasionally. This rose is a slow spreader so you can easily keep it under control. Swamp roses also look beautiful in the fall, turning red.

Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera) – native to eastern United States this rose makes a great climber, in fact, sometimes it is called ‘climbing rose.’ It can reach 15 feet tall with support and has deep pink to white flowers. In autumn the leaves turn red and purple. Grow this rose in full sun and moist soil.

Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana) – native to eastern United States north into Canada. This rose tolerates clay soil, salt,  and likes moist soil. It can reach 7 feet tall and blooms pink in late spring to early summer. The flowers are fragrant. Once again it has autumn colors of purples and reds. It tends to spread quickly so be sure to plant it where it has plenty of room.

Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii) – is also great for those in the east ! Native to Canada and entire United States except for the Southeast, this shrub can top out at 6 feet but tends to stay closer to three. It has small pink flowers that have a strong sweet scent covering the bush for weeks. This is a thick rose whose thorns prevent large predators from catching small critters inside. It even has wonderful fall color. One of the most adaptable roses, it grows in almost all climates and conditions – even shade!

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Having trouble finding these roses?

Check out Forestfarm for many of these roses. If they don’t have the one you want, many are also available as conservation seedlings from your state’s tree nursery. Find out more by reading my article.

Paige Nugent

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