Naturalizing and rambling across the southeastern United States, the Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata) is actually native to Asia. In the US, it began to grow along the path that the Cherokee Indigenous people were forced to travel on to the Oklahoma territory during the 1838 Trail of Tears.
The white flowers, fragrant like cloves, holds a special symbolism for the Cherokee people. The significance comes from a long-standing legend, which tells the story of the tears of the Cherokee women shed for their partners who died in battle. As the chief prayed to ease their pain, from that day on, each of their tears created a flower. The lore also applies to the tears shed by the Cherokee people as they were forced to walk from Georgia to Oklahoma, which spread the Cherokee Rose through this geographic area.
Continuing to honor this perennial flowering shrub, Georgia named the Cherokee rose its state flower in 1916. Every spring, the Cherokee Rose bears white flowers with golden yellow stamens. The gold center of this five-petaled flower symbolizes the gold that was taken from the Native Americans. In June (or earlier depending on the location), the blooms glow in the sunshine against dark, glossy, lasting semi-evergreen leaves. Most hardy in USDA Zones 7 through 9, it has been reported to survive in zones as low as 4 and as high as 10. Trifoliate leaves have toothed margins. Canes are spreading and arching in form with thorny stems. This climbing rose spreads vigorously, growing rapidly in the wild 6 to 20 feet tall. Flowers are two to four inches in diameter and bloom only once a year. They are followed by large, pear-shaped, bristly, brownish orange-red (purple in some varieties) edible rose hips.
|Botanical Names||Rosa laevigata|
|Common Names||Cherokee Rose, Cherokee Roses, Cherokee Rose Musquée, Chinese Rosehip, Fructus Rosae Laevigatae, Jin Yin Zi, Jinyingzi, Rosa Mosqueta Cherokee, Rosier des Cherokees|
|Plant Type||Perennial climbing rose shrub|
|Mature Size||6 to 20 ft. tall; 3 to 15 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Clay, Loam, Sand|
|Soil pH||Moderately acidic to slightly alkaline (5.6-7.8)|
|Bloom Time||Early to late spring or early summer|
|Flower Color||White flowers with golden yellow stamens|
|Hardiness Zones||7-9, USDA|
|Native Area||Asia (Central and Southern China to Taiwan, Laos and Vietnam)|
Cherokee Roses Care
Welcome this climbing perennial to a wall-side border or a cottage garden. Grow as a hedge on a trellis or fence. Position the plant to sprawl over a wall, away from any high-traffic areas where passersby may get caught on the thorns. Making a plentiful cut flower, Cherokee Roses will grow in rocky places at low altitudes, open fields, and farmland. Pair with companion plants such as alliums, parsley, mignonette, and lupins. Avoid planting with boxwood.
Consider planting on a south-facing, sunny, sheltered wall. While they will tolerate partial shade, the Cherokee Rose flowers thrive and resist disease in full sun.
Grow in a fertile, moist but well-draining soil that is rich in humus. If the soil is heavy clay, it will likely do well there too. Provide a circumneutral soil for best results.
Spread mulch two to four inches deep around the plant in spring before weeds come up. Put the mulch in a circle facing outward to the drip line (the drip line is the tips of the longest horizontal branches). Be sure to keep the mulch two inches away from the main trunk. Add more mulch during the year if needed to preserve the depth and shape. Mulch again in late winter to retain moisture, keep the roots cool, minimize weeds, and encourage flowering.
Water deeply and regularly, preferably in the mornings. In months when there is little rainfall, watering is especially important. Leaves will turn yellow and wilt if they need more water. Arrange a soaker hose in a circle around the plant two inches inside the ring of mulch. Turn the hose on low. Water the mulch well with about one inch of water. Avoid overhead watering, which can promote disease.
Feed Cherokee Roses a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 when there are signs of new growth in early spring; feed again after the buds have set. Likely the fertilizer will come in granules. Spread them on the ring of mulch, following the directions on the package. Do not drop fertilizer on the trunk. Use a garden hose to water the fertilizer in thoroughly, until the granules dissolve.
Cherokee Rose Varieties
Cherokee Rose hybridizes freely with other members of the Rosa genus. Hybrid Laevigata, Shrub Rose 'Ramona' is a dark pink/medium red cultivar. Rosa 'Anenome' blooms in pale pink.
Prune the Cherokee Rose shrub as needed to maintain the desired height and increase airflow, which helps keep the plant healthy. After the flowers are done blooming and the hips are dry, begin pruning. Wear leather gardening gloves to protect your hands from sharp thorns. Hold each branch and prune it with long tongs. Use pruning shears to snip the branch in the other hand. Cut off the sides first to fit the trellis or fence, then trim the top horizontally.
Propagating Cherokee Roses
The plant can be propagated by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or hardwood cuttings in fall.
Common Pests and Diseases
Resistant to deer, the Cherokee Rose is easy to grow and beloved by butterflies and bees. It is said that this species is rarely susceptible to insect pests and diseases that may more regularly attack other hybrid roses. Even so, keep an eye out for pests such as aphids (especially the rose aphid), leafhoppers, glasshouse red spider mite, scale insects, caterpillars, large rose sawfly, rose leaf-rolling sawfly, and leaf-cutter bees. Diseases that may arise are rose black spot, rose rust, rose powdery mildew, rose dieback, replant disease, a canker, and honey fungus. Remove and destroy any diseased leaves. Plant garlic nearby to protect it from such issues and let this rambling rose thrive and prosper.