Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is native to Japan, the Koreas, and eastern China. It was brought to the U.S. in the mid to late 1800s as an ornamental plant that was valued for its showy clusters of fragrant white to pink flowers. Unfortunately the invasive potential of this plant was not realized until after it was widely used for soil erosion control, living snow fences, highway median barriers, and livestock fences in the early 1900s. Multiflora rose grows very quickly and often forms extremely dense thickets that eliminate nearby plants, reducing understory diversity and limiting growth of livestock forage in pastures. When the arching stems or canes of a multiflora rose plant reach the ground they are able to root and further spread the plant. Additionally, each plant is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of seeds per year that stay viable in the soil for 10-20 years. The fruits and seeds attract birds and small mammals which disperse the plant into new areas. Multiflora rose is classified as a noxious weed in Iowa and multiple other states in the Midwest.
Habitat: Grows in a wide variety of soil, moisture, and light conditions; can be present in wooded areas, pastures, prairies, and along roadsides and stream banks.
Hardiness: Zone 5
Mature Shape: Shrubby with long arching stems
Height: 10 - 15 feet
Width: 9 – 13 feet
Site Requirements: Grows in nearly all soil types but not in standing water.
Leaves: average 2.5 inches long and 0.75 inches wide (can range from 0.5 – 4 inches long), alternate, pinnately compound with 5-11 oval leaflets which have toothed margins, petioles have fringed stipules with glands that look like small red, brown, or black specks.
Flowering Dates: May-June
Multiflora rose flowers are white or pinkish and have 5 petals. Green fruit form in August and turn red and then remain on the plant through winter. Younger stems are green or red and turn gray-brown with age. Larger, older stems turn gray-brown and often have vertical cracks. Stems are round with large curved thorns and generally don’t get larger than one inch in diameter.
Iowa’s native wild prairie rose (Rosa prantincola) does not form dense thickets like the exotic invasive multiflora rose and only grows about 2 feet tall. It also does not have fringed stipules.
The thorns on multiflora rose plants make mechanical control challenging. It is important to remove all of the roots when digging up multiflora rose because new plants will develop from leftover sections of root. Mowing or cutting can be effective if it is done three to six times during the growing season. This must be done for two to four years to be most effective. Combining prescribed fire with other control methods can also be effective. See our Chemical Control of Unwanted Vegetation article for specific herbicides and application methods. Chemical control treatments must also be repeated because the large number of long-lived seeds in the soil will sprout even after the original plant has been eradicated.