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Everything’s coming up roses

Sudbury Living Magazine June 1, 2018 Home & Garden No Comments on Everything’s coming up roses


One hill overlooking the city is a reminder of Ethel Merman’s signature song, Everything’s Coming Up Roses. The hilltop at the edge of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 76 property on Weller St. near Minnow Lake is the home of an impressive patch of roses.


Older citizens will remember the most severe damage from decades of smelter fumes occurred at the tops of local hills. Hilltops were exposed to large amounts of S02 which killed much of the vegetation and caused rock surfaces to be blackened. Rain and melting snow in the spring then washed away the soils preventing the regrowth of grasses, shrubs and trees.

Restoring vegetation has been the mandate of the local VegetationEnhancementTechnicalAdvisoryCommittee (VETAC) since the mid-1970s and its award-winning efforts have resulted in grasses, white birch, and red pine thriving on once-barren hilltops.

One hill overlooking the city is a reminder of Ethel Merman’s signature song, Everything’s Coming Up Roses. The hilltop at the edge of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 76 property on Weller St. near Minnow Lake is the home of an impressive patch of roses.

The rose patch is a variety of a hardy class of domestic roses known as rosa rugosa. The Latin name rugosa means “wrinkled” and refers to the leathery, crinkled, serrated leaves with pronounced veins.

Rugosa roses are large, multi-stemmed, erect deciduous shrubs that grow to a height of one to two metres. Their stout stems are covered with vicious, sharp prickles. Botanically speaking, the sharp protuberances arising from stems of roses are not thorns but prickles. They send out rhizomes (underground stems) from which new sucker shoots arise allowing the patch to increase in size often forming impenetrable thickets.

The flowers are either solitary or a few form close together and are typically three to eight centimetres across. The Legion’s roses have richly perfumed large purple-red flowers with sun gold centres. They flower throughout the summer and after an initial flush of flowers from late June to mid-July, they bloom sporadically until frost, something that does not happen with other species of roses.

In their ancestral form, rugosa flowers are a deep purple-red and have five petals, as do all the species of wild roses in Canada; however, rose breeders have made numerous varieties, with many-petalled blooms, large blossoms and small, and blossoms with colours ranging from white to creamy yellow to rich purple crimson.

Rugosa flowers are very fragrant with the sweet-smelling perfume coming from the petals and pollen which serves as a signal to insects that a food resource is present. This food resource is pollen which rugosa flowers produce in copious amounts. Rose flowers do not produce nectar, which is why fluid-feeding insects such as butterflies are not seen feeding on rose flowers. Bumblebees are the most common visitors to rugosa flowers but other species of bees, wasps and flies also visit to feed on pollen.

Once the petals fall off, the receptacle of the flower develops into the hypanthium or hip. The hip houses and nurtures the developing seeds (called achenes which are more of a nut than they are seeds). The hips are smooth and green when immature, but become glossy and brilliant red when they mature in late summer. They look like clusters of ripe cherry tomatoes. The tissues of mature hips are rich in carotenes, sugars and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Rugosa roses are exceedingly hardy as is indicated by the patch at the LLegionegion site which receives no attention by gardeners. They are more resistant to attack by insects than other species of garden roses. They are highly resistant to rose diseases, powdery mildew and blackspot. They are also salt tolerant,defiant of urban pollution, and easily tolerate our winters and do not need to be covered.

According to Maryann Meunier, manager of Legion Br. 76, the rose patch has been present for at least 20 years. When the shrub is flowering, this is a popular spot for wedding photographs. It is not known how the patch became established, but it is likely an escapee from a nearby garden. Birds likely ate the hips on a rose in someone’s garden and deposited a few seeds at the hilltop and the patch slowly spread from one or two individual plants.

Wild roses native to this part of Ontario have yet to establish on Sudbury’s hilltops, so it is even more surprising that an introduced species would thrive where endemic species have difficulty. However, rugosa roses are unique species in the world of roses and the characteristics they developed in their native lands make them suitable for harsh habitats such as Sudbury hilltops.

Rosa rugosa is native to Japan, Korea and northeastern China where it grows naturally on the rocky shores and sand dunes near the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese name for this rose is “hamanasu” meaning “shore pear,” and they have many uses in Japanese culture. The sweetly scented flowers have been used by the Japanese to make potpourri for about a thousand years.

VETAC and gardeners should consider planting them elsewhere where they would become a welcomed member of local plant communities and contribute to the city’s regreening efforts.

Rugosa roses are ideal for Sudbury gardens with the most common varieties being Hansa, Grootendorst, and Thérése Bugnet. Parkland roses developed in Morden, Man., and Explorer roses developed in Ottawa are still available and good choices. Obviously the varieties rosa rugosa rubra and red rugosa are good choices.


Joe Shorthouse is a retired biology professor at Laurentian University. He spends his summers, along with his wife, on Manitoulin Island where he continues his studies of roses and the insects that feed on them.

Sudbury Horticultural Society hosts the Sudbury Gardening Festival May 30 from 9:30 am to 4 pm at the YMCA Centre for Life and Parkside Centre on Durham St. downtown. Sudbury Master Gardeners will kick-off the festival with a special gardening speaker presentation May 29.



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