The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Trees Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Arkansas Rose

Common Name
Prairie Rose (Prairie Wild Rose, Arkansas Rose)


Scientific Name
Rosa arkansana Porter


Plant Family
Rose (Rosaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer Flowering



There are six species of wild rose on the current Garden Census. Details of each are given in comparison chart referenced below.

Prairie Wild Rose Stems: It grows erect, on short multiple stems, little branched, from 2 to 4 feet high that are densely covered with prickles at the base of older stems and with sparse reddish prickles on newer wood. New wood is green but turns reddish to purpls-reddish quickly. Stems usually die back each year because of drought or freezing, but in a more moist environment, they will survive and grow up to 3 feet high.

Leaves are alternate, pinnate with 7 to 11 oblong leaflets with sharp teeth. Teeth do not go all the way to the base of the leaf. Each leaflet is about an inch long, has either a very short stalk or no stalk but the terminal leaflet has a longer stalk. The underside of the leaf is a paler color. Both sides are smooth. The leaf stem has two stipules, each with an outward turned (flared) tooth, at the base where the leaf stalk joins the stem.

Flowers appear on this years stems, but may occur from prior year wood that survives. They can be solitary flowers on a stem but also in clusters of 2 or 3. Flowering branches do not have prickles. The flowers are 5-parted, are to 1 to 2 inches wide and have short pedicels (stalks). Petals are pink, fading toward white, while pure white petals are known but rarer. In the center of the 5 petals there are numerous stamens with yellow anthers surrounding a short, but wide column of yellow-green pistils which rise from 26 to 43 carpels. The hypanthium is globose with long-pointed sepals that persist onto the fruit after the petals drop.

Seed: Flowers mature to a smooth fleshy orange-red rose hip that contains numerous achenes (the true seeds). The flower sepals persist on the apex of the hip. Plants flower and produce seed after reaching 2 to 5 years of age. Wild Rose seeds should be sown outside in the Fall. They will germinate in the 2nd year as they need a cold moist period followed by a warm moist period followed by another cold moist period. If seed has been stored for the proper sequence of periods then it should be scarified before planting. Fall planted fresh seeds should not be scarified. While seed is cheap, bare root plants are usually available from native plant nurseries.


Habitat: The plant grows from a central crown that has deep roots typical of prairie plants. It is an aggressive spreader from its branching underground stems. The plant prefers full sun on a wide range of soils but with a higher pH (5.6 to 7.0) and has excellent drought tolerance. It is primarily a plant of the open prairies and old abandoned farmland.

Names: A number of roses that were once classed as separate varieties of this species and several others classed as separate species have recently been consolidated into this species by contemporary botanists. The genus Rosa, the Latin name for 'rose' needs no explanation. The species name, arkansana, refers to the Arkansas River (pronounced ar-KAN-zes in the west) in the the central U.S. flowing eastward from Colorado (where this species was collected) to meet the Mississippi. The river also gives its name to this rose as an alternate common name. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Porter’ is for Thomas C. Porter (1822-1901) American botanist and Professor of Botany, plant collector and co-author with John Coulter of Synopsis of the Flora of Colorado, in which in 1874 was the description of this plant.

Comparisons: See this comparison chart of the six species of wild rose in the Garden.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Prairie Wild Rose pink Flower white prairie rose

Above: The flowers of Prairie Rose are shades of pink, but sometimes white, and are solitary or in a cluster of 2 or 3, blooming on new wood.

flower sepals

Above & Below: Prairie (or Arkansas) Rose flowers on new wood with solitary flowers or in a cluster of up to 3 flowers; flowering branches do not have prickles. The flower has 5 long pointed green sepals (2nd photo above) that persist onto the fruit. 2nd photo below - Flowers mature to a smooth fleshy orange-red rose hip that contains numerous achenes (the true seeds). Plants flower and produce seed after reaching 2 to 5 years of age. Seeds have a long dormancy period and are difficult to germinate.

flower cluster hips

Below: 1st photo - Upper stems have fewer prickles which are slim and reddish. 2nd photo - Lower stems are densely prickly.

Praire Wild Rose Stem Prairie Wild Rose Prickles

Below: 1st photo - Leaves have 7 to 11 leaflets with sharp teeth. The terminal leaflet has the longest stalk. 2nd photo - The underside is a paler color than the upper surface.

Prairie Wild Rose leaf Prairie Wild Rose leaf underside

Below: 1st photo - At the base of the leafstalk is a stipule with two outward spreading teeth.

leaf stipule Rose Hips
full plant image

Below: A nice Prairie Rose plant in a private garden.


Notes: Smooth Rose (Rosa blanda) is the only rose that Eloise Butler notes as indigenous to the Garden area. Prairie Rose was first introduced by Eloise Butler in April 1917 when she acquired plants from Strand's Nursery in Taylor's Falls, MN. Martha Crone included it on 1951 Garden census; she had planted it in 1948. It may have died out prior to 1986 as it was not listed on that census, however Gardener Cary George replanted it in 1994. In Minnesota Prairie Rose is found in most counties of the state with most of the exceptions being in the NE quadrant. In North America it is a plant of the mid-continent ranging from the lower Canadian Provinces down into the U.S. staying east of the Rocky Mountains, south to Texas and eastward to Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio and New York. Five species of wild rose are recognized as being native to Minnesota, R. acicularlis, R. blanda, R. arkansana, R. woodsii and a cross between R. woodsii and R. blanda known as Rosa ×dulcissima Lunell (pro sp.) [blanda × woodsii]

Historical Notes: Prairie Rose on the prairies must have been a beautiful sight as it was mentioned in the journals of several prominent explorers:
"Everywhere the rose is met with, and reminds us of cultivated gardens and civilization. It is scattered over the prairies in small bouquets and, when glittering in the dews and waving in the pleasant breeze of the early morning, is the most beautiful of the prairie flowers." Capt. John C. Fremont, June 20, 1842, at 96º 32' 35” Lon. 39º 45’ 08” Lat. between the Big Vermillion and Big Blue Rivers in current day Kansas, from The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains.

Stansbury, on his way to map the Great Salt Lake, mentions it on June 12, 1849 while he was passing Walnut Creek and the Big Blue River.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.