Prairie Rose

Rosa Arkansana

"The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose"

by John Brouwer

Last summer roses bloomed on the old westmount roadbed just to the west of the co-op across Pinetree. In north american cities, asphalt and concrete create ecological deserts where once thriving forest ecosystems contributed to keeping our planet in harmony.

In addition to prairie rose, the old roadbed now has ash, oak, catalpa, sycamore, sugar maple, birch, sumac, redbud, dogwood, nine bark, elderberry, white pine, cedar, cranberry, nanny berry, willow, and poplar – all native trees grown from seed in this area. There are now some 150 seedlings and saplings, all from two to four years old. This past wet summer certainly helped these get established.

Prairie rose is one of Canada's indigenous roses. It is found throughout central Ontario, through the prairies and up into the rockies. It has five petals; pink, white and sometimes mauve flowers and blooms from June through August. It is a small shrub reaching three to four feet.

Prairie rose is extremely hardy. It prefers hot summers, cold winters, and low humidity. It is exceptionally resistant to drought. During the great prairie droughts of 1934 and 1936 prairie rose produced an unusually large crop of fruit and showed no wilting when all crops failed. As it develops an extensive root system, up to twenty feet, it is resistant to fire. Consequently it has been an integral part of prairie landscapes.

As a well-established persistent plant, prairie rose had many uses in native medicine. Boiled roots were used for colds, fevers, diarrhea, influenza, and stomach and liver disorders. Teas made from petals was used as a heart tonic and to treat sore throats and tonsillitis. Rose hip tea was used for eye inflammations. Crushed roots were made into hot compresses to treat swelling.

The use of prairie rose in traditional medicine, has been substantiated by modern science which has found that rose hips are high in vitamins A, C and E, calcium, iron, and phosphorous. Supplements containing these nutrients are routinely prescribed by doctors to treat various ailments. Rose hips are being researched for their use in cancer therapies.

Today prairie rose has entered the culture. An internet search gives hundreds of results; all organizations, towns, and businesses which have adopted the prairie rose at part of their name. Obviously a rose which can bloom under very harsh climatic conditions is evocative of our human spirit. A new political party in Alberta calls itself the Wild Rose Party. Since this party if far to the right of the ruling conservatives, adopting this name certainly doesn't evoke the traditional spirit associated with native roses.

The conversion of the old roadbed is now well underway though it will take lots more effort and many more years. The next project can be the grassed area between Pinetree and Laurel creek at Bearinger. The university has designated this as part of their environmental reserve but instead of letting this naturalize, in typical university doublespeak mows it to prevent the establishment of a natural environment. This area should be naturalized as it can function to enhance the creek's ecological corridor between the conservation area and the environmental reserve.

We have made a small contribution to turning the urban desert into a place where roses can bloom. Much more can be done. And in doing so we work towards the fulfillment of that ancient prophecy, "the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" Isaiah 740-700 BCE.

November 2009