How to Plant & Grow Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)


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Multiple rosehips on a swamp rose plant
These pea-sized rosehips are associated with a wealth of uses, including treatments for diabetes and other conditions. Ketone16, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rosa palustris, more commonly known as swamp rose, is a flowering deciduous shrub that belongs to the Rosaceae family. Widely known as the family of roses, Rosaceae includes around 2,500 species of flowering plants belonging to more than 90 genera with an extensive variety of characteristics.

The swamp rose is just one of over 300 species found in the Rosa genus, which is fairly omnipresent as a crowd favorite in many cultures of the world. With blooms that are fragrant, beautiful, and globally symbolic of love, the eye-catching plants of this genus are native to several regions in the northern hemisphere. Specifically, R. palustris is native to the eastern region of the US, and encroaches upward toward Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

The swamp rose produces short-lived, carnation pink flowers on shrubs that can grow up to a towering 8 feet tall. Its yearly flowering period extends from late spring into the early summer months, after which fleshy, red fruits develop. These small fruits are called rosehips and are typically dispersed by birds such as starlings and robins.

Though robust enough to grow tall without structural support, this shrub can have the appearance of a climbing rose bush when grown on trellis structures and walls owing to its prickly stems, numerous branches, and pinnate leaves.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Swamp Rose

Palustris, which is Latin for “marsh-loving,” is a species epithet indicative of the swamp rose’s affinity for poorly drained or boggy soils. It is the perfect accent for rain gardens or the fringes of streambeds, and can help prevent the marginal areas of bogs or marshes from eroding. This plant produces lovely red foliage in the fall, with blooms that attract butterflies and bees in the spring and summer.

Aside from attracting birds and small mammals, the pea-sized rosehips are associated with a wealth of uses. Rosehips are a rich source of vitamin C and are known for many therapeutic applications and treatments for diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Rosehips are also popular in the cosmetics industry for producing oils known for combatting skin disorders.

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Swamp Rose Fact Sheet:
PLANT TYPE
Perennial
HARDINESS ZONES
USDA 4 – 9
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Full sun to partial shade
BLOOM COLOR
Pink
BLOOM PERIOD
June – July
MAXIMUM GROWTH
6 – 8 feet
PLANTING DEPTH
On soil surface (with seeds); 4 – 6 inches deep (with cuttings)
WATER QUALITY
Slightly acidic to neutral (pH 5 – 7)

Swamp Rose Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Swamp rose in bloom with a pink flower
The swamp rose will produce flowers under full sun and in rich soil. Malcolm Manners from Lakeland FL, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Swamp rose is ideally grown in wet or moist soils, but may also proliferate in upland regions or dryer areas so long as the soil is regularly watered and prevented from drying out completely. It is generally tolerant of partial shade conditions, but will thrive best and produce flowers under full sun and in rich soil. Full exposure also improves the plant’s resistance to diseases, though it is relatively resistant to rosette viruses to begin with. As a wildflower plant, it is generally unsusceptible to many of the pests that attack hybrid rose varieties, but mites and aphids may still occasionally appear.

It is quite hardy in the sense that it can grow in a variety of soil types (sand, loam, clay) and can withstand temperatures as high as 40 ˚C (104 ˚F) and as low as 10˚C (50 ˚F), though the plant may drop its leaves if the temperature dips too much.


How to Plant Swamp Rose

Swamp rose plant developing rosehips
The swamp rose, like most other rose species, is easy to grow in your home garden. Malcolm Manners / CC BY-SA

Like most rose species, the swamp rose is easy to grow in your own home garden. It may be propagated via stem cuttings or grown directly from seeds extracted from the ripened hips. Planting swamp rose via seedlings may, however, be a more time-consuming process as the seeds could take up to two years to germinate, and would require the gradual warming of temperature to induce embryo maturation.

Some seed scarification methods coupled with simulated temperature changes may be employed to reduce germination times. Once the seeds have germinated and have grown into seedlings that are large enough to handle, plant them individually in pots or spaced apart in frames. It is advisable to outplant them during the summer, once they are around 25 cm or 10 inches in length.

A much simpler and surefire way to plant this species is by taking the right type of plant cutting based on the main growth stages of the plant. Softwood cuttings, which are taken during the plant’s bloom period, are the easiest to use and would be the quickest to develop roots. These cuttings are a section of stem taken from right below the shoot tips, after the rose has dropped all of its petals. Alternatively, semi-hardwood or hardwood cuttings may also be used, though these have more difficulty developing roots. These types of cuttings are partially or fully matured stems and may have entered a state of dormancy.

To increase your chances of successfully propagating cuttings, it would be wise to treat them with a rooting hormone prior to planting them in 4-6 inches of cultivated soil. When selecting permanent positions for both matured seedlings or cuttings, make sure that each of them has enough space for ample air circulation around the plant, and keep in mind that bright indirect light would be best for your cuttings.


How to Care For Swamp Rose

Swamp rose blooming with a large pink flower
Swamp rose can grow for more than 20 years with proper care. Malcolm Manners / CC BY-SA

To encourage rapid growth and ensure that R. palustris is provided with enough nutrients for normal development, you may mix a complete fertilizer into the soil or occasionally use a liquid fertilizer. As this plant has difficulty tolerating dry conditions, make sure that the soil stays moist or wet (though not in standing water). Remove any weeds around the plant and keep the topsoil free of dead leaves. Regularly prune the plant, especially in late winter, to remove any diseased areas and spent blooms. Habitually inspect the leaves for fungal infections or pests. With proper care, a swamp rose bush may grow for more than 20 years, and will eventually spread on its own through rhizomes.


How to Winter Swamp Rose

Young swamp rose plants, cuttings, and seedlings will require protection from the cold during winter, so it would be wise to delay outplanting them until summer. Although there’s always the option to bring potted roses indoors, mature swamp roses in outdoor pots or plots may be left outside, but will require some winter protection.

If the rose plant is in a movable pot, wait until it has dropped all of its leaves. This usually indicates that the plant has gone dormant and can tolerate very low light conditions. If desired, you may bring the pot indoors to an area with very little light and no heating, such as a basement or garage. If the plant is well-rooted and cannot be moved indoors, prune tall stems that may be whipped about by forceful winds.

You may insulate the base or crown of the plant by mounding up soil around the shoot and lower branches, but make sure to take the soil from elsewhere and not from under or around the bush. If located in an area that receives particularly strong winter gales, you may reinforce some shoot sections with additional structure, or choose to tie the branches together with twine, surround the plant with a wire collar, and even cover the top of the rose bush with a burlap sack.


Is Swamp Rose Invasive or Toxic?

The swamp rose is not considered an invasive species, as it is native to the regions where it is widespread. When the first cultivated roses were brought to America by 17th Century French explorers, swamp rose blooms were surely already dotting the eastern marshlands. Far from toxic, rose blooms and rosehips have a history of beneficial uses that dates back to pre-colonial times. Native Americans made use of them in teas, soups, and stews. They even dried them to ensure they would be available during the winter. The wild rose flowers were a symbol of life and were even believed to give strength to infants.


Is Swamp Rose Edible? Will Animals Eat it?

The most edible part of the swamp rose is the rosehip. It is consumed by a wide variety of animals such as rodents, black bears, skunks, and birds. The shell of the fruit, known as the hypanthium, is fleshy and protects more tissue crammed with seeds. All parts of the fruit are safe for consumption, as long as the plant from which it is taken has not been exposed to pesticides or fungicides. The blooms are likewise edible and are known to contain secondary metabolites that help support the immune system.


Where to Buy Swamp Rose & Seeds? (UK & US)

Swamp rose seeds, seedlings, and bare root plants are readily available for purchase online or in plant nurseries located along its native range. Potted swamp roses may also be purchased via online nursery portals, though a wholesale purchase may be required. As a rule of thumb, do be aware that plants you can purchase online may not be native to your area and may have special requirements for growth.

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