Dog rose, or Rosa canina, is a wild rose species classified as part of the Rosaceae family. It is a very well known wild plant that has been used medicinally for centuries. Additionally, archaeologists suspect that dog rose fruits have been a source of food for people since as early as 2,000, BCE thanks to their high vitamin C content.
The name dog rose is in no way meant to diminish its stature or compare it to garden roses that are highly cultivated. Instead, the name was derived from classical and ancient times when people believed the dog rose root could cure the bite of a mad dog. The roots were even used to treat bites from rabid dogs during the 1700s and 1800s.
- Scientific Name: Rosa canina
- Common Name/s: Rose hips, wild briar, wild rose, witch’s briar, dog berry, briar rose
- Family: Rosaceae
- Origin: native
- Habitat: hedgerows and woodland
- Flowering months: May to July
Dog Rose Distinguishing Features
Rosa canina is a deciduous climbing shrub. Other common names for rosa canina include dog berry, witch’s briar, briar rose, dog briar, and of course, dog rose.
Stems and Leaves
Dog roses have thick green climbing stems covered with hooked prickles, similar to thorns. The thorns found on the stems are what enable them to attach to other surfaces, like trees, and climb upward in growth. The thorns also help to deter woodland predators.
Rosa canina leaves grow in a pinnate structure with between five and seven leaflets on opposite sides of the stem. They are oblong, wide, and may also have slightly toothed edges.
Fully grown, a wild rose plant usually reaches between one and five metres in height. However, they can also be seen growing in taller treetops when the growing conditions are right. When they are cultivated in a garden, they can easily surpass the five-metre height mark as well.
Rosa canina typically has pale pink flowers, but other shades of pink flowers and also white flowers are not uncommon. Each dog rose flower has five petals with a sweet and mild fragrance, typical of most rose species. Dog rose flowers typically bloom in late spring and summer during May, June, and July so they can be ready to grow fruit and spread their seed in autumn.
Dog rose grows bright red-orange or red hips, also known as the fruit. The bright red hips develop after the flowers bloom. The fruits are usually seen in late summer and autumn, anywhere between August and November.
Where Do Dog Roses Grow?
Dog rose plants are native to Europe, western Asia, and northwest Africa. They were also introduced into North American victory gardens during WWII, resulting in their continued presence in the wild today on wet, sandy coastlines and roadsides across the USA and Canada. Dog rose plants can also be found growing in hedgerows and woodland areas.
These plants are hearty, even in the wild, and can grow in all types of soils and amounts of light and shade. They grow best when they have rich soil and ample drainage.
Seed Dispersal: Is Dog Rose Invasive?
The seeds on dog rose plants spread rapidly. Their main method of dispersal relies on wildlife that eats the fruit and transports it, sometimes a great distance, before depositing or planting it back on the ground. The seeds can also spread in the fur or hooves of wildlife and stock animals or even travel on rivers and other waterways.
Seed dispersal is so effective that dog wood can easily become an invasive species, depending on the region and the other types of native plants in the area. Although not invasive in the UK, dog rose is considered to be an invasive species in New Zealand’s high country. It has also been deemed a weed by Australia.
What Is Dog Rose Used For?
Dog rose flowers, fruits, and roots have a long history of being used medicinally and their existence and use even surfaces in mythological and classical literature. In fact, the dog rose flower is considered to be one of the Romanian national symbols.
Dog rose is often used to make essential oils that are turned into fragrances but can also be used medicinally and not just as a homoeopathic remedy.
Dog rose is found today in common diuretics and laxatives and is used for the treatment of urinary tract infections, kidney disorders, digestive issues, arthritis, fevers, common colds, and gout.
The fruit from the dog rose plant is edible and can be used in wines, stews, and pies. The fruit is very high in vitamin C. So much so that they were recommended as a good way to get your daily vitamin C by the British government during WWII, when they were unable to import citrus fruits.
The shells on rose hips are also edible and contain antioxidants, vitamin E, vitamin B, fatty acids, and carotenoids.
The dog rose flower is also edible and can be dried, candied, preserved, or made into syrup for use in all types of recipes. They are most commonly used as a salad topping or in teas and marmalades.
Interestingly, gall-forming wasps also found a good use for dog rose plants. They like to build their galls in them to keep their babies safe while they grow and hatch.