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Ode to a Wild Rose

Family Farmhouse 1917

My grandparents and great grandparents moved to Delaware in 1914 at the

beginning of the mass migration of Swiss/German families to escape the cold,

rocky soils of West Virginia and western Maryland. In the ensuing years, dozens of

families moved to the “paradise” of Greenwood, Delaware with sandy, fertile soil,

no rocks, and mild winters. This was the beginning of the Amish / Mennonite

community that thrives there to this day.

Soon after my ancestors purchased 100 acres of crop land and loblolly

pine/hardwood forest, improvements were made to the yard and outbuildings,

including the construction of a new barn, brooder house, and poultry house. One

of the “niceties” was the building of a rose arbor gate leading to the permanent

pasture of Virginia broomsedge (a grass, not a sedge) dotted with Eastern red

cedar (a juniper, not a cedar).

Old Pasture Gate 1920

Sometime after 1920 this entrance was graced with an old-fashioned pink rambler rose planted on either side. The property endured many changes of ownership, renters, field fires, drought, and hurricanes until the present day. Never the less, those little roses survive to this day by their very tenacity, crawling through weeds and bushes, self-layering, tip rooting and climbing upwards in a thicket of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) and red mulberry (Morus rubra).

Pink Rambler Rose

The driveway, surfaced with cinders and crushed clinkers from the coal-fired

brooder stoves, led from Shawnee Road to the primary residence along the

pasture fence strung with the old spiral, serrated fencing wire. From a century of

wagon wheels and horses hooves (the house was over 100 years old in 1914) the

soil between the fence and drive was dry, gravelly, and hard packed. In this

medium a colony of the most delicate and beautiful of all, the Carolina Pasture

Rose (Rosa carolina) grew, planted and cared for entirely by Mother Nature.

Carolina Pasture Roses along driveway

Carolina Pasture Rose

This was in my childhood and remains until this day my favorite of all roses. So you can keep your grandifloras, your damasks, and hybrid teas, I’ll take the Carolina. They

can be found bordering the Morton meadow at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, the

Savage Tract, and occasionally along the ditch banks of Shawnee Road.

A very close second place, goes to the swamp rose, (Rosa palustris).

Swamp Rose over pond

If you’ve spent any time at all in mid-June or July boating on any of the local millponds you have likely seen them. They can be found growing on nearly every shore, border, bank, and hummock of Abbott’s, Blair’s, Griffith’s, Haven Lake, and Silver Lake Millponds. Even if you are not a boater, you can see them from the public areas of these ponds and along the causeway over the dam at Griffith’s Lake.

Swamp Rose detail

The swamp rose is more upright and has a coarser stem than the Carolina Rose. The corollas are five petaled, single blooms and very fragrant. In autumn the fruits, called hips, of both species persist on the plants as scarlet red berries and are quite decorative.

Swamp Rose along Griffith causeway

They form an important food source for many songbirds. They can be gathered (from private land with permission) then simmered in water, strained, and sweetened to make a delicious tea rich in vitamin C. This rose hip tea can be purchased in many health food stores and is very popular in Europe. It is known in Germany and Austria as Hagebuten Tee. I drank enough of that while living there to float the Queen Mary, I think. Although the habitats and growth forms are entirely different, if you find a wild, pink, single-flowered rose and are not certain as to which species you have they can be identified by the thorns. A hand lens is usually not necessary. The thorns, or prickles, of the swamp rose are stout and curved or slightly hooked.

Swamp Rose thorns

Carolina Rose thorn detail

The thorns of the Carolina rose are thin and straight. Both are nicely fragrant.

Another wild rose that I almost hate to mention in passing is the escaped multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora).

Multiflora Rose

It is probably all too familiar to you if you have farmland or a wildlife meadow. During the 1940’s and 1950’s the multiflora rose, a native of Asia, was imported and recommended by The Department of Agriculture for use as a windbreak on large, flat farm fields to help control serious wind erosion. (Remember this was shortly after the Dust Bowl era). Multiflora rose was also used as a rootstock for grafting other more desirable roses. All of its attributes were touted, easily grown, bushy growth habit, deep roots, clusters of beautiful white, sometimes tinged with pink, flowers, and food for birds and browsers. The agricultural minds of the day had little idea of how serious and invasive this plant would become, prolifically self-seeding, smothering out native plants, difficult to control, sometimes climbing to a height of twenty feet into nearby trees. This rose should never be planted and if found on your property should be removed. . The final rose that I will mention here just for reference is another alien, the Wrinkled or Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa).

Wrinkled Rose near Griffith's Lake

This lovely rose can be seen along the coast from Maine to New Jersey. It is often planted as an ornamental in coastal communities and is sometimes found locally as an escape from cultivation. It has wrinkled leaves and a very bristly stem. The large single flowers are a beautiful deep rose.

While I was reading with interest Steve’s article on “It’s All in the Family” about some other mills on the Mispillion River drainage, I learned that the Manlove family was associated with the Tubmill Pond Mill. I have known the Manlove family for decades and had propagated a family heirloom rose for them. This seems to be a fitting time to share their story with everyone. The rose is known as Black Prince.

Black Prince Rose detail

These are the notes that the family provided: The first record of ownership was when Catherine Mitten Thomas received the rose as a wedding gift. She later passed the rose on to her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Macklin who in turn eventually gifted it to her daughter, Lena Macklin Manlove. It remained in Lena’s possession until she was forced to enter a nursing home in 1974. At that time she gave the rose to her son, James E. Manlove. In 1985 James moved to his son’s residence and at that time the rose was transplanted to that location. James gave the rose to his son, Gary M. Manlove. James remembers the rose as being much darker in color. He said at times “it appeared almost black” and still blooms to this day a very deep velvety red.

Black Prince Rose (All color photos by Paul Layton)

Notes from Paul: The Black Prince was hybridized by William Paul (b.1822-1905) of Waltham Cross Nursery, London in 1866. Classified as a hybrid perpetual with a very dark red cup- shaped flower having 40+ petals and a strong rose fragrance. The plant is usually 4-5 feet in height. Color variations may be the result of the cool weather, the age of the flower, and soil fertility. Although a historical rose, it is still offered in the trade today by specialists, since no other rose has replaced it. So get out and enjoy our Lovely Wild Roses!!!

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