Multiflora Rose from Wisconsin DNR websiteMulti-Floral Rose


Family:  Rosaceae

Taxon:  Rosa multiflora Thunb. Ex Murray

Synonyms: Rosa canthayensis, canthayensis Rehder and E.H. Wilson, Rambler Rose, Baby Rose, Japanese rose, Seven-Sisters Rose


Janice Hotz

February 19, 2006







Life History Process




Vegetative Growth


Plant Morphological Structure

Seed (Parental)

Vegetative from Roots or Canes (Parental)

Seed (Independent)

Ramet (Independent) or Ortet (Parental)

Seedling (Juvenile)

Bud Shoot


Vegetative Plant (Adult)

Flowering Plant (Adult)

Developmental Process

-    Fertilization

-    Zygote formed

-    Embryogenesis

-    Dormancy induction

-    Bud morphogenesis


-    Seed dormancy


-    Germination

-    Emergence from soil

-    First leaf greening

-    Bud Development

-    Bud growth

-    Emergence from soil

-    First leaf greening

-    Growth

-    Meristem morphogenesis

-    Senescence of some tissues

-    Flower formation

-    Senescence

-    Meristem morphogenesis

Plant Activity

- Seed formation

-    Vegetative bud formation

-    Spatial dispersal

-    Temporal dispersal

-    Spatial foraging

-    Establishment

-    Establishment

-    Interactions with neighbors

-    Flower Formation

-    Breeding and Pollination


-    Seed Protection

-    Prolific seed numbers

-    Seed Location

-    Asexual vegetative buds

-    Seed attraction as food

-    Spatial seed dispersion

-    Temporal seed dispersion

-    Seed bank age

-    Spatial foraging

-    Seed and bud temporal difference

-    Germination Enhancement by Bird Digestion

-    Cold Stratification

-    Preferential Light Germination

-    Germination Vigor at Relatively Low Temperatures

-    Initial Low Growth Habit

-    Prolific Growth and Large Size

-    Interaction with Neighboring Plants

-    Thorns

-    Cattle Forage Reduction

-    Strong Root and Crown System

-    Number of Flowers

-    Insect Pollination Attraction

-    Type of Mating System
















Plant Morphology

The multiflora rose reproduces through three different processes:  1) seed, 2) root sprouts, and 3) layering from the canes.


- Seed (parental) –

The multiflora rose reproduces by sexual reproduction through seed development. 


 - - Plant Activity - -

The small bright red fruits, also known as rose hips, develop in the mid to late summer.  As the season turns into autumn, the rose hips become leathery.  These rose hips remain on the plant throughout the winter. 


- - Traits - -


Seed Protection: The multiflora rose produces seed, also known as achenes, within the rose hips.  These rose hips become leathery through the season and help to protect the seeds through the winter months.  In addition, the achenes are enclosed in a set of sharp spicules (Amrines, 2003).  As the seeds develop, reach maturity, and proceed into dormancy, these enclosure help to protect them from weather or animal damage.


Prolific Seeds Numbers:  Each cane on a large plant may contain 40 to 50 panicles.  Each panicle can contain as many as 100 rose hips (with an average of 50).   On average, there are seven seeds per rose hip (with a range of 1 to 22).  Thus, each cane can potentially produce up to 17,500 seeds (Amrine, 1991).  Overall, a large single plant can produce 500,000 to 1,000,000 seeds per year (Wisconsin DNR).  This large production of seed improves the probability of some of the seed reaching a germination site.


Seed Location:  The multiflora rose is a phanerophyte, a perennial plant that bears its flowers, thus rose hips, well above the surface of the ground (above 10 inches from the soil).  The location above the ground of the rose hips allows for easier identification and retrieval by birds for food.  As noted later, birds are a key dispersal method for the multiflora rose.


- Vegetative Bud (parental from roots) –

The multiflora rose reproduces asexually through root sprouts.


- - Plant Activity - -

Shallow roots can develop asexually into new plants.  An interesting note is that the plant was originally dispersed throughout the United States by sharing of root cuttings.  Additionally, this sharing of root stock allowed the plant to be grown in areas where the seeds were less likely to germinate.  For example, in the far south, the seed is less likely to germinate due to lack of cold stratification.  However, because the multiflora rose could be reproduced through root stock, it was distributed in the south through this method, thus increasing the multiflora rose’s initial dissemination area early in this century.


- - Traits - -


Asexual Vegetative Buds:  By producing new progeny through root development, the multiflora rose provides a potential of increased progeny without sexual reproduction.  If conditions are not appropriate for flowering and seed production, the plant can continue to increase in population through vegetative reproduction.  This reproduction also allows the species to maintain local adaptations.  Along with the feature of being a perennial plant, this reproduction can allow for long term establishment of an area with strong interconnectedness of the species with a spreading habitat.


- Vegetative Bud (parental from canes) -

The multiflora rose also reproduces asexually by layering through rooting of the tips of its arching branches (canes). 


- - Plant Activity - -

As the long arching canes touch the ground and make contact with the soil, roots begin to form new plants. 


- - Traits - -


Asexual Vegetative Buds:  By producing new progeny through branch layering, the multiflora rose provides a secondary pathway of increased progeny without sexual reproduction.  If conditions are not appropriate for flowering and seed production, the plant can continue to increase in population through vegetative reproduction.  This reproduction also allows the species to maintain local adaptations.  As branches spread on a large plant, this reproduction allows for spreading of the habitat.




Plant Morphology

The multiflora rose disperses through both seed distribution and the vegetative buds from both roots and canes. 


- Seed (independent) –

The multiflora rose hips and seeds are dispersed through gravity and bird and animal distribution.   


 - - Traits - -


Seed Attraction as Food: The rose hips are viewed as fruit for multiple birds and mammals.  In the United States, robins, mockingbirds, starlings, red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings and other species feed heavily on multiflora rose hips in the fall and winter.  The fruits are highly sought after by the birds.  (The Nature Conservancy)  In addition, since the hips contain the numerous spicules, the seeds pass rapidly through the bird digestive tract and remain intact.  The evidence of birds as a primary disperser of multiflora seed is demonstrated by the location of new rose seedlings often found under popular bird perch sites. 


Spatial Seed Dispersion:  The multiflora rose seeds are dispersed by two primary methods, rose hips falling to the ground under the plant or through feeding on them by birds and mammals.  These two methods provide for seed dispersal both close to the original plant and in large distances.  The majority of the new plants develop from seeds that fall relatively close to the parent plant, due to falling of the rose hips to the ground through gravity (USDA).  The rose hips do not split apart to release the seed, but dry gradually to form leathery capsules too dense to be wind carried (The Nature Conservancy).  Thus, the majority of seeds not eaten by birds fall close to the parent plant.  Contrarily, the rose hips that are eaten by birds are dispersed widely (Wisconsin DNR).  The seeds survive through the digestive tract of the birds and are dispersed to the extent of bird travel within their range of flight.


Temporal Seed Dispersion:  Again, since the multiflora rose seeds are dispersed primarily by the methods of gravity and birds, these two methods leads to variation in time to when the seeds come into contact with the soil.  The feeding birds usually consume the fruits in late fall through early winter.  The majority of rose hips that are eaten by birds are completed usually by January (The Nature Conservancy).  On the other hand, the uneaten rose hips typically remain on the plant until the following spring. They remain intact due to the dense, leathery capsules that protect them.  Thus, some seeds are exposed to the soil in winter, while the others remain on the plant until spring.  In addition to the temporal difference of the two primary methods of dispersal, the seeds also remain viable within the soil for a number of years (The Nature Conservancy).  This viability is discussed in more detail in the seed bank age section. 


Seed Bank Age: The seeds of the multiflora rose remain viable in the soil for ten to twenty years (Amrine, 2003).  It has been found that as many as 90% of the seed remains viable in the absence of drought, stress, and pathogens (such as seed chalcids).  This ability to remain viable for many years allows the plant to produce seedlings long after control measures are assumed to have eradicated the species.  Many resources discuss the need to continue treatments of herbicides even after the plants are gone, due to the longevity of the seeds in the soil (Bergmann).  Where plants have become well established, a huge seed bank develops that can continue to produce seedlings for at least twenty years after removal of mature plants (Amrine, 2003).


- Vegetative Bud (independent) –

New multiflora rose plants grow from root and cane reproduction, which are obviously dispersed in close proximity to the original plant.   


- - Traits - -


Spatial Foraging of Vegetative Progeny: As mentioned previously, the canes are capable of rooting when in contact with soil as they arch to the edges of the plant width.  The roots also are capable of reproducing when they are shallow, near the edges of the plant width.  These new plants can be developed in environments that may be difficult for germination, or other difficult terrain.  These other methods of dispersal beyond seeds allow the species to spread methodically across an area.


Seed and Bud Formation Temporal Differences:  While seed development focuses germination in the spring, vegetative progeny can be developed at other times of the growing season.  If the spring environment does not allow for good germination, the plant can continue to spread progeny through root and cane layering throughout the summer and early autumn.




Plant Morphology (juvenile plant, seedling, bud shoot)

The multiflora rose emerges into a seedling from the seed or into a juvenile plant from either the root or cane layering.


- Seed Germination -

After the seed is removed from the plant, and potentially is eaten by birds or mammals, the seed is deposited on the ground, allowing germination.


-- Traits -- 


Germination Enhancement by Bird Digestion:  As noted in the dispersal section, significant seed distribution of multiflora rose occurs through the act of birds eating the rose hips.  It has been found that the germination of the multiflora rose seed is actually enhanced by the passage of the seed through the digestive tract of birds (Bergmann, Amrine 2003).  It is believed that the better germination occurs after scarification by passing through the digestive tracts.  In addition to increasing the germination rate, the passage of the seed through the digestive tracts of birds provides feces to act as fertilizer to the seedlings. (Amrine, 2003)  The multiflora rose has utilized its attractive fruits as a way to support a wide spatial dispersal of its seed as well as a way to increase the seeds’ germination rates.


Cold Stratification:  As a way to ensure that the multiflora rose seeds germinate at the best time of the year for the plant, the seed has a preference for cold stratification to break dormancy.  The preferred timing of the germination is early spring, to allow a full summer of initial growth prior to winter freezing.  The seeds appear to have dormancy that is broken by cold temperatures to stimulate the germination process.    The preferred germination is cold stratification from February 1 to April (Amrine, 2003), which allows the proper timing for seedling growth.


Preferential Light Germination:  As the multiflora rose has a tendency to do best in sunny locations, the germination process also appears to be preferential to those areas with appropriate light intensity.  The germination of the seed is improved by light exposure.  Studies have shown that the seed germinates best in light, with rates approximately of 60%, versus germination rates of less than 10% in dark locations (Huebner).  This light germination trait allows the plant to develop in those areas in which it is most likely to do better during its vegetative growth period.


Germination Vigor at Relatively Low Temperatures:  The multiflora rose seeds germinate readily once they are deposited in soil.  Once the soil warms in the spring, the seeds germinate readily.  One study indicated that after long seed dormancy and cold stratification, the temperature for the initial multiflora rose seed germination was only 41 degrees Fahrenheit (Huebner), although an optimum germination rate was achieved at 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  As quickly as the soil temperature increases above freezing, the multiflora rose actively germinates and begins to grow, often before many other competing seeds. 


- Juvenile Plant Independence -

Once the plant germinates or develops from the layering of roots or canes, the shoots begin a low growth pattern of vegetative development.


-- Traits --


Low Initial Growth Habit:  Once the seedlings germinate or the roots and canes develop bud shoots the seedlings grow very slowly and at a low height level.  These juvenile plants are generally inconspicuous for the first one to two years due to this lower growth habit (The Nature Conservancy).  This growth for two years helps the plant to develop a strong root system and to store reserves to manage the seasonal cycles.  It also allows the plant to be not easily seen by those that would want to remove the plant, or eat the new vegetative growth, allowing the plant to build strength.


Vegetative Growth


Plant Morphology (adult plant)

As the multiflora rose develops into the vegetative growth period, it becomes an aggressive and persistent plant.


- Arching Perennial Shrub -

The multiflora rose becomes a plant with a large footprint of long arching canes with thorns that can climb and destroy other neighboring vegetation.


-- Traits --


Prolific Growth and Large Size:  Once the multiflora rose begins significant vegetative growth after the first one to two years of a low growth habit, it then rapidly expands with significant cane growth and begins further expansion through layering and root sprouts.  An individual plant grows typically between 6 and 10 feet in height and occasionally will grow up to 15 feet in height.   Its width can grow up to 33 feet in diameter.  Many stems originating from the base grow into canes that are erect and arching or trailing and sprawling.  The crown of the plant, itself, can grow to a diameter of 8 inches or more.

In addition to its size, the multiflora rose’s growth habit is tenacious.  It is extremely prolific and forms impenetrable thickets.  It is this growth habit that made it attractive as road barriers for vehicle accidents and for headlight reduction for oncoming traffic.  However, this same habit of spreading rapidly and tightly also causes it to restrict access by humans and animals due to the impenetrable thickets that are formed.  These thickets restrict access to pastures and recreational areas.  Also, because it spreads so rapidly, these thickets are difficult to manage. 


Interaction with Neighboring Plants:  As the plant’s size and growth habits are prolific, it has a tendency to crowd out existing vegetation.  The dense, impenetrable thickets of strong stems and generous foliage exclude native plant species in its vicinity.  It has often taken over entire pastures from native species.


Thorns:  In addition to the strong stems and copious foliage, the multiflora rose also adds another trait that causes difficulties for animal foraging or land management, through the addition of stiff thorns to its canes.  The canes are armed with stout recurved prickles (Kartesz) that contribute to its climbing ability and difficulty of removal. 


Cattle Forage Reduction:  Specifically, where multiflora rose takes over pastures utilized for grazing of cattle, it provides several other specific traits that decrease its attractiveness.  As already noted, it competes well with its neighboring pasture species.  However, the forage quality of the multiflora rose is low and it greatly reduces the agricultural productivity of locations it encroaches (USDA).  In addition, it can cause severe eye and skin irritation in cattle (USDA). 


Strong Root and Crown System:  In addition to the prolific above ground growth and thorn traits, the multiflora rose also has a strong crown and root system that allows for its endurance in difficult environments.  The strong, deep, and wide root system allows survival in conditions such as drought and allows for broad investigation for required nutrients.  The plant can utilize these roots and crown to reserve resources.  This resource reservation supports its perennial nature to survive winter freezing cycles.  Also, these reserves allow the plant to survive relatively large defoliation to eventually recover.  This recovery is noted in management of the plant, since it often recovers from significant cutting, mowing, or other top growth removal strategies.  Its deep roots will continue to re-sprout several times after significant defoliation (USGS).  Finally, the root system is also effective at allowing the plant to grow in steep conditions.  Initially, the plant was introduced to help in erosion control, due to its ability to survive on slopes.



Plant Morphology (reproduction adult plant, flowering plant)

The multiflora rose produces flowers on an annual basis.


- Flower Formation -

Beginning in May or June, dependent on the location, clusters of showy fragrant white to pink flowers appear on the multiflora rose. 


- Breeding and Pollination -

Currently, there is no information on the details of the breeding or pollination systems of the multiflora rose (USDA).


-- Traits --


Number of Flowers:  The multiflora rose produces a large amount of flowers.  Each cane on a large plant may contain 40 to 50 panicles.  Each panicle can contain as many as 100 hypanthia or hips (with an average of 50).  On each hip, there is an average of seven seeds (ranging from 1 to 22) (Amrine, 2003). 

It is thought that part of the reason for the abundant floral production of the multiflora rose may be due, in part, to the plant’s natural enemy, the multiflora rose seed chalcid.  In the plant’s original native area in Asia, the chalcid may infest as much as 95% of the seeds of the multiflora rose (Weiss, 1917).  Due to this high pressure, the plant evolved to produce large numbers of flowers.


Insect Pollination Attraction:  Although few details of the actual pollination systems for the multiflora rose are known, it is likely that insect pollination is an important contributor.  The flowers produce large amounts of golden, sweet-tasting pollen (Amrine, 2003), which are highly attractive to many pollinators.


Type of Mating:  As with pollination, few details of the breeding systems of the multiflora rose have been studied (USDA).  However, it has been noted that the multiflora rose may self-fertilize or outcross (Huebner), allowing both local adaptation increases as well as genetic mixing.




The multiflora rose was originally native to areas in Japan, Korea, and eastern China.  It was introduced to the East Coast of the United States in 1866 from Japan as a rootstock for ornamental roses (Bergmann).  Since that time, the multiflora rose was introduced throughout the United States.  Currently, it occurs throughout the eastern North American continent from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia south to northern Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas.  It is also distributed along the west coast from British Columbia to Oregon.  The following chart, from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services webpage for multiflora rose, shows the wide range of the multiflora rose across the United States. It is estimated to infest more than 45 million acres in the eastern U.S. (Amrine, 2003). 

State Distributional Map for Rosa multiflora Thunb. ex Murr.

Image from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service webpage

for multi-flora rose distribution by state.


The multiflora rose can be found in a wide range of environmental conditions.  It is most commonly found in open fields and pastures, especially in the northeastern and Midwestern United States.  It frequently colonizes roadsides, old fields, pastures, prairies, savannas, and is found along stream banks and forest edges.   It has been found plentifully in such areas as Texas savannas, bluestem prairies, sandhill prairies, blackland prairies, fescue grasslands, oak savannas, among mesquite buffalo grass, juniper-oak savannas, among northern coastal shrubs, and coastal prairies. It is found across many upland habitats in North America.  As noted earlier, it has a potential to grow on steep inclines and overtake hillsides. 

It also will invade forests where disturbance provides canopy gaps to allow additional sunshine to penetrate. It has been found among a multitude of varying forests including those of pines, oaks, cypress, redwoods, cottonwood, maple, birch, beech, aspen, fir, spruce, cedar glades, great lakes pine forests, northern floodplain forests, Appalachian oak forests, and riparian woodlands. On occasion, it has been found to grow on the margins of swamps and marshes (Amrine, 2003).

Even though the multiflora rose has ability for growing in a wide range of environmental conditions, it thrives best in pastures, grazed woodlots and uncultivated open areas.



The multiflora rose has a wide tolerance for light variation and conditions.  Although it prefers sunny locations, it can endure shade. It is occasionally found invading forests, especially if there has been some disturbance that has allowed gaps in the canopy to allow additional light.  It has been found in rare cases to grow even in dense woods.



The multiflora rose can handle a range of temperatures.  It is moderately winter-hardy.  It grows best in the USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, although it is sometimes found outside of this range.



As with light and temperature, the multiflora rose also has a wide tolerance for moisture variation.  As noted previously, the multiflora rose has a significant root system that can allow for reserves of energy, as well as deep and wide roots that allow for finding of moisture through the soil.  Thus, it can endure dry environments.  On the other hand, it can also endure damp environments.  However, it prefers well drained but moist soil. 


Soil (texture, nutrients)

The multiflora rose also has a wide tolerance for soil variations.  It has been found to be successful on the eroded clay pans of central Missouri and southern Illinois (The Nature Conservancy).  It has been found growing in very coarse textured sandy to gravelly soils.  Its preference, though, appears to be in deep, fertile, loamy soils.


Disturbance Areas / Competition Levels

The multiflora rose prefers pastures, open savannas, and prairies.  It invades pastures and unplowed fields, crowding out the existing vegetation.  Its characteristic dense growth of foliage and stems inhibits growth of competing native plants. It rapidly out-competes surrounding vegetation, takes over pastures, and lowers crop yields (Hoffman). It has been shown that rose hedges lower the crop yields on adjacent fields by competing effectively for nutrients.  (The Nature Conservancy)

It also quickly advances in old agricultural fields that have been subjected to land disturbance and are now idled.  Overgrazing can also help in its establishment. It is most commonly mentioned as a component of early-succession communities, such as abandoned agricultural and pasture lands in the eastern U.S. However, it is not limited to a specific succession stage. It has been found in new fields, abandoned fields, old fields that have been densely colonized by small trees and shrubs, 60 to 70 year old early-seral forests, riparian forests, and mature forests.  Because its seeds are often bird dispersed, multiflora rose can colonize gaps in late succession forests, even though these forests are thought to be relatively resistant to invasion by nonnative species.  (USDA)


Fire Adaptation

As for adaptation to fire, the multiflora rose can manage through a moderate level of damage.  There are many examples of the plant surviving low to moderate severity fire by sprouting from rhizomes or root crowns.  It also recovers from the seed bank that may germinate, following the fire.  However, it is typically top-killed by fire, so it requires that the crown and root systems can manage in the recovery.  With increasing fire severity, the plant may be subject to root crown and rhizome damage sufficient to inhibit sprouting.  The multiflora rose was shown to be significantly reduced following two consecutive early-spring burns at a prairie restoration site in east-central Illinois (Kartesz).



The multiflora rose prefers uplands or bottomlands, out on the open prairie.  However, it can easily grow on hillsides.  It is found in the Cascade and Sierra Mountains.  This trait of growing at elevation and steep conditions often supports its survival, as a hillside location can prevent access by tractors and mowers targeted at its destruction. 


Mowing / Foliage Reduction

As mowing or foliage reduction is often a common method of management of multiflora rose, it is of interest that the plant has some ability to recover from such activities.  Mowing will only reduce the plant infestation if repeated three to four times per growing season for two to four years (Szafoni).  The strong root system and crown allows the plant to recover from major foliage reduction.  Removing the plant’s leaves removes energy production, but the multiflora rose responds by using reserves in the roots and crown to put out new leaves (Bryan).  In addition, the multiflora rose uses another of its special traits, thorns, as a defense against mowers.  The thorns are known to significantly damage tires of tractors and other mowing equipment. 



The multiflora rose enjoys very few pathogens in the United States.  It is tolerant to many of the North American insects and diseases.




The multiflora rose does not grow in the Rocky Mountains, the southeastern coastal plan, or in the deserts of California and Nevada.  It also does not grow in row-crop agricultural conditions.  Multiflora rose is not a problem in tilled and highly cultivated areas, such as corn and soybean fields (Hartzler, 1992).



The multiflora rose does not thrive well in deep shade, although, on rare occasions it is found in dense forests.



The plant does have a maximum northern range, as it has an inability to tolerate winter temperatures below -28 degrees Fahrenheit (Wisconsin DNR).  Also, it does not grow from seed south of central Georgia, probably because the seeds need cold temperatures to stimulate germination (Amrine, 2003).



The multiflora rose does not grow well in standing water or in extremely dry habitats such as the southwestern deserts (Wisconsin DNR).


Disturbance Areas / Competition Levels

Although the multiflora rose is a strong competitor to neighboring plants, it is not likely to be a serious long-term invasion threat to mature forests.  It will likely be shaded out by surrounding trees and shade-tolerant shrubs.  (USDA)



While the multiflora rose has few insect or disease pathogens, there are two pathogens that may have significant impact on it, the rose rosette disease and the multiflora rose seed chalcid.

Rose Rosette Disease

Rose-rosette disease is native to the western U.S. and has been spreading toward the east at a slow pace.  Multiflora rose is highly susceptible to the disease.   It is thought to hold the potential of eliminating multiflora rose in areas where it grows in dense patches (Bergmann). It has the potential to eliminate over 90% of the multiflora roses in dense stands (Amrine).  The symptoms of the disease include reddened, damaged foliage, shorted petioles, severely reduced flowering and fruiting, and eventually retarded apical growth.  In general, smaller plants are killed by the disease within 2 to 3 years of initial symptoms, while larger, multi-crowned plants may survive for as long as 4 to 5 years.  Plants growing in full sun appear to succumb more rapidly than shaded plants (Kartesz).

Multiflora Rose Seed Chalcid

Another potential agent against the multiflora rose is the rose seed chalcid, a Japanese wasp that has become established in the eastern U.S.  The adult wasps oviposit into developing multiflora rose ovules, where larvae later consume the seeds.  In Asia, the chalcid may infest 95% of the seeds of a plant (Weiss, 1917).  Surveys in North Carolina have revealed an average of 62% of viable seed infested with larvae (Nalepa).  The colonization of the wasps into new multiflora roses is slow.  However, as the rose seed chalcid gradually spreads, it should begin to greatly impact multiflora rose populations in the U.S.  On the other hand, the rose seed chalcid is probably not a factor in areas that experience severe cold, since the larvae over-winter in multiflora rose hips and are adversely affected.

Other Pathogens

Although these two pathogens are the major threats to the multiflora rose, other natural enemies of the multiflora rose include a native raspberry cane borer, a native tortricid hip borer, a native powdery mildew, several native fungi that cause cankers, and several European stem gall forming bacteria species.  However, none of these enemies have had a major impact on a significant scale.  (Amrine, 2003).



As mentioned earlier, the multiflora rose can respond to defoliation by using reserves in the roots and crowns to put out new leaves.  However, repeated defoliation will exhaust these reserves and eventually the plant will die.  It has been studied that three to six mowings per season for two to three consecutive seasons will eventually provide enough defoliation to achieve high plant kill (Bryan).  In addition to mechanical defoliation, livestock also can have significant reduction impact on multiflora rose.  Goats and sheep are especially efficient at removal of multiflora rose infestations.  Domestic sheep and goats feed on the leaves, new buds, and new shoots.  Unlike cattle, the goats and sheep are not sensitive to the multiflora rose thorns and potential irritants.  In addition, goats and sheep are appropriate on steeper terrain.  Goats have been shown to reduce brush from 45% to 15% in one season, with sheep taking three seasons to accomplish the same reduction (Bryan).


Seed Protection: Since the multiflora rose sets seed in mid to late summer, but the seed will not germinate until the following spring, it is important that the seed is protected through the winter months.  The multiflora rose is found in moderately cold climates, so this seed protection is valuable to allow the seed to survive until the time for germination.  Also, the seed protection works similarly in other more difficult climates, such as windy areas, allowing the multiflora rose to survive and propagate in a wide variety of locations. 


Prolific Seeds Numbers:  The large seed numbers allows for production of a high number of offspring in a wide variety of environmental conditions, and even in relatively harsh conditions, or if exposed to some of its natural pathogen enemies.


Seed Location:  The higher seed location allows for identification by birds and other animals which will support wide dispersal of the seed to larger geographic regions and other potentially adaptable locations.


Asexual Vegetative Buds:  By producing new progeny through root development and can layering development, the multiflora rose provides a potential of increased progeny without sexual reproduction.  If conditions are not appropriate for flowering and seed production, the plant can continue to increase in population through vegetative reproduction.  Again, this trait allows the multiflora rose to reproduce in a wide variety of conditions.


Seed Attraction as Food:  Since the multiflora rose is found throughout the United States in typical areas of pasture, prairie, or edges of forests, the ability to utilize the native bird and animal species as a method for broad seed dispersion is an important trait.  In addition, the timing of the hips being edible during the times of the year when other food for the wildlife is less abundant, allows the multiflora rose to capitalize on this dispersal system without significant competition.


Spatial Seed Dispersion:  The multiflora rose is adaptable to a wide variety of environmental conditions, including a wide range of soil, temperature, and light requirements.  Due to this ability to survive broadly, it makes sense that it should take advantage of a seed dispersal trait that allows for great lengths, as well as close proximity.


Temporal Seed Dispersion:  The multiflora rose again utilizes the traits of temporal seed dispersion to allow its progeny to develop at the optimum conditions for its locale, with many potential environmental variations.  If a site is warmer or colder, dryer or wetter, or sunny or shady, the plant can adapt the reproduction to coincide by either seed germination or root and cane development.


Seed Bank Age: Similarly to temporal seed dispersion, if environmental conditions are not ideal for germination, seeds may remain viable until the conditions are appropriate through long dormancy in seed banks.  This trait continues to allow the multiflora rose to adapt within many types of conditions.


Spatial Foraging of Vegetative Progeny: The ability of the multiflora rose to utilize its canes to create new rooted plants allows it to develop in difficult environments for germination or other difficult terrain.  For example, even in rough gravelly areas, where germination may be difficult, the species can survive and spread.


Seed and Bud Formation Temporal Differences:  With both seed and root / cane reproduction, the multiflora rose can produce offspring at multiple times of the year, when it can be most advantageous.  If the environment is too dry for seedlings to develop, then the plant can reproduce later in the year by root or canes.  This allows the multiflora rose to have multiple options in what may be seen as difficult environments for other plants.


Germination Enhancement by Bird Digestion:  The multiflora rose has utilized its attractive fruits as a way to support a wide spatial dispersal of its seed as well as a way to increase the seeds’ germination rates.  This wide dispersal method allows the plant to invade new locations in which to colonize.


Cold Stratification:  The cold stratification that appears to assist the multiflora rose break seed dormancy is helpful in the majority of its habitat in North America.  This stratification allows the seed to germinate at the best time of the year for the plant to develop and grow.  Unfortunately, this trait may also hinder the plant from invading new territory by seed dispersal in the south where freezing does not occur.


Preferential Light Germination:  Since the multiflora rose has a tendency to do best in sunny locations, the germination process is adapted to be preferential to those areas with appropriate light intensity.  This light germination trait allows the plant to develop in those areas in which it is most likely to do better during its vegetative growth period.


Germination Vigor at Relatively Low Temperatures:  Similarly to seed cold stratification, the germination of the multiflora rose is enabled at relatively low soil temperatures.  This trait allows the plant to get a jump start on other germinating seeds.  This trait allows the plant to do well in a large area of North America, but once again reduces its competitive advantage in the south.   


Low Initial Growth Habit:  The initial two year low growth habit helps the multiflora rose to develop a strong root system and to store reserves to manage the seasonal cycles, including the winters of the majority of the United States.  It also allows the plant to be not easily seen by those that would want to remove the plant, or eat the new vegetative growth, allowing the plant to build strength in its roots to provide the reserves for later defoliation attacks.  Thus, it can grow unnoticed in pastures and other preferred locations until it has more ability to survive.


Prolific Growth and Large Size:  The impenetrable thicket that is characteristic of the multiflora rose keeps humans from removing it in locations that the plant finds attractive.  It also keeps neighboring plants from competing against it.


Interaction with Neighboring Plants:  The trait of successfully competing against existing vegetation allows the multiflora rose to enjoy environments that it finds as the best locales.  It often takes over sunny prairies due to its trait of being able crowd out existing flora. 


Thorns:  The thorns do not likely assist the multiflora in thriving in specific habitats, other than its defensive mechanism to reduce the ease of removal by human and other animals.  


Cattle Forage Reduction:  Due to its ability to irritate cattle’s eyes and skin, as well as having low forage value for cattle, the multiflora rose can grow in pastures that it finds attractive with less foliage reduction due to the cattle. 


Strong Root and Crown System:  The crown and root system of the multiflora rose is very important to its ability to thrive in very diverse environmental conditions.  It is the deep roots that allow survival in dry conditions, in locations with sparse nutrient value in the soil, or on steep grades.  In addition, the combination of roots and crown allow the multiflora rose to survive moderate winters and defoliation by humans and animals or mild fires.  This trait is one of the most important to the ability of the plant to thrive in so many different conditions.


Number of Flowers:  The trait of production of a large number of flowers per plant has already been noted as important to survival against many pathogens.  This allows the multiflora rose to thrive in conditions where similar pathogens may reduce other plant populations. 


Insect Pollination Attraction:  If natural pollinators are available, the multiflora rose can compete against other plants through its attractive pollen.  In much of the United States, the availability of pollinators allows the multiflora rose to compete well. 


Type of Mating:  As it is suspected that the multiflora rose can either self-fertilize or outcross, it has the ability to adapt to conditions that are potentially unfavorable (through outcrossing), as well as be adapted properly to local conditions (through self-fertilizing). 


Several of the traits make the multiflora rose so successful, including 1) the ability to propagate in three ways, 2) having seed that is protected and enhanced by being eaten by birds, 3) having seed that is able to survive for years, 4) strong root and crown system, and finally, 5) the prolific and tenacious growth habit of the plant.  The ability to propagate in three ways allows a wide variability of environments in which the plant can continue to reproduce.  It allows the plant to reproduce asexually even when conditions may not be right for flowers to form.  When it does flower, it produces a massive amount of seed that is attractive to birds to eat and disperse.  In fact, the germination is enhanced by the digestive systems of birds.  Then, these widely dispersed seeds can exist in a dormant state up to 20 years.  Even after the plants are assumed to be eradicated, these seeds can germinate and begin a new cycle of life.  Similarly, with the plants strong root and crown system, it can hold reserves that can allow the plant to recover from severe defoliation, as well as the common moderate winter.  Finally, the prolific and tenacious growth habit allows the multiflora rose to compete successfully with neighboring plants. 



The multiflora rose is a shrub perennial that was introduced to the United States in 1866 from Japan as a rootstock for ornamental roses.  Beginning in the 1930s, the U.S. Soil and Conservation Service promoted it for use in erosion control and as “living fences” to confine livestock (Bergmann).  Its use was encouraged by distributed root cutting to landowners free of charge in many states.  Even recently, multiflora rose has been planted in highway medium strips to serve as crash barriers and to reduce automobile glare (Bergmann). The primary reason that the multiflora rose has become so widespread and successful is due to the broad and intense distribution by humans.  It was planted very widely across most of the U.S. (Auro). 

It is also a highly valued shrub for support of native birds and animals.  The rose hips are consumed by many species of birds, including grouse, ring necked pheasants and wild turkeys.  They are especially favored by cedar waxwings and American robins.  Besides birds, the leaves and rose hips are also eaten by chipmunks, white-tailed dear, opossums, coyotes, black bears, beavers, snowshoe hares, skunks, and mice.  The leaves, twigs, bark, and hips are favored by cottontail rabbits.  The rose hips are especially important for winter wildlife food, as the multiflora rose provides nutrients when other such high nutrition foods are unavailable (USDA).   In addition to food, the multiflora rose also provides good wildlife cover for birds, such as the pheasant and bobwhite quail, as well as small animals, such as the cottontail rabbit.

Over time, the “weedy” characteristics of the multiflora rose began to diminish its human distribution.  It was found to spread successfully on its own and to reduce preferred prairie and pastures.  Early in this demise, cattle were found to be reluctant to enter the fields that were dominated by multiflora rose (The Nature Conservancy) and agricultural productivity was found to drop when multiflora rose began to invade pasture lands.  Eventually, horticulturists agreed to stop using the multiflora rose as a rootstock and it became unavailable from nurseries (The Nature Conservancy).  Currently, the multiflora rose is classified as a noxious weed in Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.


The seeds of the multiflora rose are contained in the rose hips.  The hips contain an average of seven (with a range of one to 21) seeds, also known as achenes.  The seeds are yellowish to tan and somewhat irregular in shape.  Their size is about 2 to 4 mm long by 2 mm wide.  In addition, the seeds are enclosed in sharp spicules, which help in protection (Amrines, 2003).


Stems, Leaves, Roots

The multiflora rose is a large arching perennial shrub.  The branches, or canes, can grow to 13 feet long and are armed with stout recurved prickles (thorns). The canes initially begin as only a few and then grow to many, originating from the base.  Each cane will branch.  An individual plant can reach a height of 15 feet and as wide as 33 feet in diameter.  It is more typical that the plant grows from 6 to 10 feet in height.  The canes tend to either grow upward and outward or in a trailing and arching habit.  The canes provide good wildlife coverage for birds and small animals, such as pheasant and rabbits.  The branches are red to green.  The bark of the trunk is usually grayish-brown and smooth.

The leaves are 3 to 4 inches in length and are divided into five to eleven sharply toothed leaflets, each 2 to 4 cm long.  The leaves are compound.  They grow pinnately and grow alternately consisting of seven to nine small oval leaflets.  The leaflets are nearly smooth on the upper surface and paler with short hairs on the underside.  At the base of each leaf stalk, a pair of fringed bracts is located.  These bracts are 1 to 1.3 cm long and have finely dissected glandular stipules.

The multiflora rose has a tough, wide, and deep root system and crown.  The strong root system helps to allow the plant to provide erosion control, especially on hillsides.  Older plants may have a root crown diameter of 8 inches or more. 

Seedheads, Flowers

Beginning in May or June, clusters of showy fragrant white to pink flowers appear on the multiflora rose.  The five petals are obovate and truncate.  The stamens are numerous and are attached to the rim of the hypanthium (USGS).  The individual flowers are one half inch to one and one half inch in diameter.  From these flowers, the small bright rose hips develop during the summer.  The panicles contain six to 100 (with an average of 64) hips (SE-EPPC).  The rose hips are approximately ¼ inch, or less, in diameter. The rose hips become leathery as the season progresses.  They remain on the plant through the winter, if not eaten.  The rose hips are attractive food for birds and animals.  Within the hips, an average of seven (with a range of one to 21) seeds are contained. 





Amrine, James W., Jr., Multiflora Rose, Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, November 5, 2003,


Amrine, James W., Stasny, Terry A., Biocontrol of Multiflora Rose.  Indianapolis, IN, Indiana Academy of Science, Symposium October 25 – 26, 1991.


Auro, Patricia, The Introduced Species Summary Project, Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora Thunberg ex Murray), Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, December 8, 2002,


Bergmann, Carole, Swearingen, Jill M, Multiflora Rose,


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Hartzler, Bob, Multiflora Rose and Rose Rosette Disease, Iowa State University, February 3, 2003,


Hartzler, Bob, Owen, Michael, Iowa Cooperative Extension Service Program, Iowa State University, March 1992,


Hoffman, Randy, Kearns, Kelly, Rosa Multiflora, Invasive Plant Atlas of New England, University of Connecticut, 1997,


Huebner, Cynthia D., Olson, Cassandra, Smith, Heather C., Invasive Plants Field and Reference Guide:  An Ecological Perspective of Plant Invaders of Forests and Woodlands, USDA, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station, Eastern Region, 


Kartesz, John, Meacham, Christopher, Species: Rosa Multiflora, 1999,


Kay, Stratford H., Lewis, William M., Langeland, Kenneth A. Integrated Management of Multiflora Rose in North Carolina.  AG-526.  Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, Cooperative Extension Service Pamphlet, 1995, P. 17.


Nalepa, Christine A., Distribution of the Rose Seed Chalcid Megastigmus aculeatus var. nigroflavus in North America.  Journal of Entomological Science.  24(4):413-416. 1989. 


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Szafoni, Bob.  Vegetation Management Guideline for Multiflora Rose, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission for the Illinois Department of Conservation, February 6, 1990, Vol. 1, No. 15


USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service webpage


USDA Species Information:  Rosa Multiflora


USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Species Abstracts of Highly Disruptive Exotic Plants at Effigy Mounds Monument, Rosa Multiflora


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Fact Sheet on Multiflora Rose