For several years a number of organizations on Cape Cod, such as the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, have been promoting sustainable and ecological landscaping. Many homeowners have decided to use native plant species that require less maintenance, thus less water and fewer, if any, chemicals. The effects of this approach are an attractive property, and a minimal impact on the environment.
Cape Cod is not immune to the damaging effects of invasive species. Most invasive plants were introduced, and have created the predictable problems, such as reduced diversity of native species. However, not all introduced species have an invasive nature. In fact, there is one species, namely the seaside rose (Rosa rugosa) that was introduced to this country in the late 1800ís, and is often used in landscaping throughout the Cape. Rugosa means wrinkled which describes the surface of the leaf. The plant has a compound leaf with five to nine leaflets. It can withstand salt spray and sandy soil, and is often found growing on sand dunes. The flowers are red, pink, or white, and appear in late spring though the fall. The plant grows as a shrub up to five feet tall, and produces the fleshy fruits called rose hips which can be made into jelly. Try the rose hip jelly made from the solar jam kitchen at the Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich. In addition to human use, the rose hips are an important food source for many animals, particularly when food becomes scarce in the colder months.
Rosa rugosa is one of those plants that is an attractive shrub with low maintenance and high wildlife value. Donít confuse this plant with the highly invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), which also grows abundantly in this region.
The seaside rose has other uses as well. Itís a part of a significant plant community on a sand dune, protecting the coastline from erosion by holding sand particles in place. The seaside rose adds diversity to this assemblage of salt-tolerant, xerophytic (desert-loving) plants. Not only is it a food source for animals, but its dense branches provide shelter. There are also many beach parking lots on the Cape that are screened by rows of this plant.
There are an enormous number of varieties of roses available for landscaping today. Many of these require frequent watering, spraying, and fertilizing. Soil conditions have to be modified and insect pests have to be controlled. On the other hand, Rosa rugosa is one member of this huge family that has adapted well to the Capeís unique environment.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.