Column: Multiflora Rose: The good, bad and ugly


If you are old enough, you may remember Multiflora Rose. Right after World War II, in Missouri, where I grew up, the Conservation Commission heralded Multiflora Rose as botany’s latest and greatest gift to farmers.

The rose, which is a rambling, tangling bramble, grows into an almost impenetrable hedge six feet high. It was proclaimed a modern marvel because farmers could plant it instead spending money on fences. It kept the cows in, and provided a safe habitat for upland game – rabbits, quail and such.

Even better, the state offered the plants for free. All the farmers had to do was plant them. And plant them they did. In the ensuing years, driving through the state was like visiting an oriental garden. Multiflora Rose bordered every field, highway and byway. Endless rows of white blossoms greeted you everywhere.

Then the unexpected happened. From every blossom there came a seed in the form of a bright red rose hip. Birds loved them. And wherever birds roosted, perched or stopped for a potty break, new Multiflora Rose plants sprouted.

The birds, it turned out, did a more thorough job of planting the shrub than the farmers did, and soon the entire state of Missouri (and probably at least 40 other states) had Multiflora Rose growing everywhere. Hedges grew up in the middle of pastures. City parks were overrun with the plant. Citizens found unwanted roses in their lawns and petunia beds.

Hasty meetings and serious research ensued. Proclamations were made. Warning fliers were distributed. “Do Not (repeat) Do Not Plant Multiflora Rose!”

In China, Japan and Korea, where the plant is native, it has natural controls and reportedly behaves itself. In the US, however, it was like the rabbits in Australia and multiplied beyond all human understanding.

Just about everywhere the plant was declared a noxious weed. A mite-borne virus that slowly kills the plant was quickly and widely distributed. Despite an all-out battle, however, Multiflora Rose still persists in most states.

Few things are all bad, however, and ag-science folks now inform us that Multiflora Rose is excellent goat fodder.

I wonder what an invasion of goats will be like.