Native California Roses

copyright Barbara Ertter, 2001
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Rosa gymnocarpa Nutt.
"Wood Rose"

Description Distribution Discussion Horticultural Notes Nomenclature Links

Plants growing above roadbank in forest understory. Prickles few to abundant, straight, slender. Double-toothed glabrous leaflets; sepals fallen from mature hip. Small glabrous hip in bud; prominent stalked glands on pedicel; short sepal tips. Sepals disarticulating as unit from hip at maturity; flowers most often solitary.

DESCRIPTION: Loose shrub, generally 5--20 dm tall. Stem greyish brown; prickles few to many, slender, straight. Leaf 3--10 cm long; stipule margins glandular; leaflets 2--4 per side, glabrous; terminal leaflet generally 10--30 mm long, widely elliptic, the base obtuse, the tip obtuse; leaf-margins double-toothed, glandular. Inflorescence generally 1(--3)-flowered; pedicels generally 15--30 mm long, generally stalked-glandular. Flowers: body of hip in flower generally 2--3 mm wide, glabrous, neck of hip generally 2 mm wide; sepals glandless or glandular, sepal-tip generally much shorter than sepal-body, entire; petals generally 10 mm long; pistils < 10 in number. Hip 5--12 mm wide, most often ovoid, sometimes irregularly lumpy, glabrous, the neck and sepals detaching at maturity as a cleanly dehiscing unit. n = 7. Blooming March to July. Understory and edges of forests, brushland; 30--2000 m elev.

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Relatively common in the understory and edges of forests in northern California, extending south to Amador Co. in the Sierra Nevada, and to San Luis Obispo Co. in the Coast Ranges, with a disjunct population on Mount Palomar in San Diego Co; north to British Columbia and east to Montana.

Additional distributional representations available from links at entry for this species in the Jepson Interchange for On-Line Floristics

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DISCUSSION: With the exception of Rosa minutifolia, the wood rose is the most distinctive species of native rose in California. This is particularly true in full fruit, when the sepals detach cleanly as a unit from the glabrous, ovoid hip. Previous treatments have relied almost entirely on this diagnostic character, overlooking the numerous distinctions available for non-fruiting material (and as a result setting the stage for frequent misidentifications of flowering specimens). The generally solitary flowers are actually quite distinctive in their own right, with exceptionally small glabrous hips atop pedicels studded with stalked glands. Prickles are straight, slender, and numerous, and leaflets are often four per side (vs. only three, as is more common).

Wood rose characteristically grows in relatively shaded situations, with stems up to six feet high. A disjunct population on Mount Palomar in San Diego County is indistinguishable from the nearest populations otherwise known, well to the northwest in the South Coast Ranges. In extreme northwestern California, however, a shorter form occurs in full sun on serpentine areas. This form also tends to have fewer, blunter, more bluish-green leaflets, sparse prickles, paired flowers, glabrous pedicels, and more elongate hips. Other populations from the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon, however, combine features of this extreme (e.g., short stature, glabrous pedicels) with typical gymnocarpa foliage, such as the type of R. abietorum Greene.

Images of serpentinitic extreme from Siskiyou Mountains
Habitat of serpentinitic extreme in northwestern California. Leaflets often fewer, blunter, more purplish than typical R. gymnocarpa. Hips sometime more elongate, often paired, with one pedical glabrous and the other stalked-glandular. Line drawing of the serpentinitic extreme.

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HORTICULTURAL NOTES: Rosa gymnocarpa is already known in cultivation, noted by Krüssmann (Complete Book of Roses,1981, p. 281) as "One of the few roses which tolerate shade." The graceful foliage, charming flowers, and unusual fruit give this species a well-deserved place in the woodland garden.

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R. gymnocarpa Nutt. in Torr. & Gray, Fl. N. Amer. 1: 461. 1840: Nuttall s.n.-- Oregon (IS at NY!)

Possible Synonyms (working list):
R. abietorum Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 257. 1912: Coville & Applegate s.n.-- Lake of the Woods, Klamath Co., OR, 25 Jul 1897 (HT: US380319!) [lacks peduncle glands]
R. boland[e]ri Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 261. 1912: Bolander-- Oakland Hills (HT: US45934!; IS: US!) = spithamea X gymnocarpa? [sepals persistent but hips glabrous, aspect of spithamea]
R. covillei Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 262. 1912: Coville s.n.-- Naylor, Klamath Co., OR, 22 Sep 1902 (HT: US415341!; fragment at NY! [aff. gymnocarpa, but sepals not deciduous]
R. dasypoda Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 260. 1912: Copeland [Baker 3874]-- Siskiyou Co. (HT: US528469!)
R. glaucodermis Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 255. 1912: Jepson-- Shasta Springs, Siskiyou Co., 1894 (HT: US480045!; IS at JEPS!)
R. leucopsis Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 258. 1912: H.E. Brown 99-- sage plains of SE OR, [near Wagontire; locality challenged in IF] Lake Co., 29 Sep 1896 (HT: US283078!; IS at NY!)
R. myriaden[i]a Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 263. 1912: Coville & Applegate s.n.-- Huckleberry Mt, Jackson Co. OR (HT: US380588! IS: NY!) = aff. gymnocarpa?
R. piscatoria Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 256. 1912: Elmer-- Pescadero, San Mateo Co., CA (HT: US665810!; IS: NY! UC!)
R. prionota Greene, Leafl. Bot. Observ. Crit. 2: 256. 1912: Heller 5858-- Mt Sanhedrin, Lake Co, CA (HT: US416864!; IS: MO!)

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