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Roses with Other Names

Phil Watson

The Rose family (Rosaceae) is a well-known and economically important family incorporating numerous delightful, long established garden favourites (roses, spiraeas, japonicas, and flowering cherries), productive fruit trees and shrubs (pears, apricots, apples, plums, and loganberries) and notorious weeds. For the native plant enthusiast, the family is represented in our bushland communities by a small group of intriguing but often-overlooked herbs (native buzzies, guems, parsley piert) as well as scrambling native raspberries.

Many of today's declared weeds are derived from the Rose family. They were introduced by the early colonists into the pristine native landscape for their important amenity and horticultural values of the day. Within a short period some had escaped the confines of their English style gardens and farms to flourish as aggressive weeds, initiating their invasion and subsequent degradation of vulnerable vegetation communities. Weeds such as briar rose, blackberry, hawthorn, and cotoneaster etc have now become well known for their ability to tolerate the toughest environmental conditions and out-compete indigenous flora.

Native Rose families members provide tea, bush tucker and delicate flowers

Indigenous to Eastern Australia, the sheep's burr (Acaena echinata and Acaena ovina) and buzzy or bidgee widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae and Acaena montana) are glossy, pinnate-leafed ground covers, often proliferating within the inter-tussock spaces of sunny woodlands and coastal sites. The generic name Acaena is Greek for 'thorn', referring to their distinctive burr-like seeds, which make up their globose, bristly fruits. Along with the fur of our native marsupials, most bush walkers have inadvertently contributed to the seeds' dispersal. The laborious process of removing the balled seed clusters entangled in woolly socks instils in your memory the need to spot this plant early. No better awareness campaign exists for a native plant!

   Acaena novae-zelandiae
Acaena novae-zelandiae

Geum urbanum
Geum urbanum

Rubus probus
Rubus probus

Photos: Kurt Stueber, Hugh Nicholson, Unknown *

The drought tolerant, thorny, straggling native raspberry (Rubus parvifolius) and the more compact mountain raspberry (Rubus gunnianus), with its distinctive red blackberry-like fruit, are the only two Tasmanian examples of the twelve native raspberries in Eastern Australia. For optimum development of their tangy sweet fruit, they prefer the moister sections of your bush tucker patch. A quenching and therapeutic tea can also be derived from drying their young leaves or 'tiny tips'.

The Aborigines were not the only devotees of these fruits. They are cherished by a selection of birds (including the ravenous Currawongs), blue tongue lizards (do you ever wonder where some of your luscious raspberries and strawberries mysteriously disappear to?!), the New Holland Mouse and even the tiny Dusky Antechinus. Their resulting deposits (or regurgitations, in the case of the currawong) disperse the seeds.

Interestingly, the larvae of the blue male and green pink female Ghost Moth (Aenetus sp.) are known to bore into and feed within the stems of these native raspberries and other Roseaceae fruit trees (apples). They have fascinating life cycles, starting out as 'litter larvae' living under logs and feeding both on the decaying wood and its associated fungi. They then moult into a 'transfer larva', which migrate and bore into their host Rosaceae plant stems. A silken wad of excavated fragments acts as the tunnel covering. Here, they moult again transforming into 'shrub or tree larvae', which continue to enlarge their tunnels until finally, after an exhaustive 5 years, metamorphose into beautiful moths.

Mountain geum (Geum talbotianum) has white, chalice-shaped flowers with yellow centres and forms small tufts of kidney-shaped leaves in sheltered alpine slopes. It is one of only two Tasmanian representatives (Geum urbanum is the other) of this spectacular cosmopolitan genus cultivated for brightly coloured, long lasting floral displays. The clove-like fragrance in their roots has proved historically popular for flavouring wines and ales. Unless you are happy to experiment, don't expect to succeed in growing this in your patch. Instead, it can be cared for as a pot plant, requiring regular potting on to keep it happy.

Native and introduced parsley pierts (Aphanes australiana and Aphanes arvensis) are small, inconspicuous parsley-like annuals with minute flowers that crowd together forming greenish tufts. The Latin name, Aphanes, which means 'inconspicuous' is well chosen. However, the significance of lady's mantle (Aphanes vulgaris syn Alchemilla vulgaris) with alchemists cannot be overlooked.

By steeping 4 grams of the herb for 5 minutes in one cup of boiling water and straining, a brew was produced for women following childbirth, both for promotion of healing and staunching blood flow. Its coagulation properties made it a common mouth rinse after teeth extractions. Relief from diarrhoea, menstrual problems and inflamed throats are other proven uses.

Rose family environmental weeds

Flowers of the common hawthorn plant *


By 1820 hawthorn (Crataegus monogynus) proved a godsend for the early settlers as a fashionable hedging and 'wicker' style stock fence plant. The fences grew rapidly from hawthorn seedlings (called 'quicks') closely planted and woven into wands. Louisa Anne Meredith, a noted author and flower painter of the day, wrote of her admiration for "the anglicised countryside of sober green and white flowering hedgerows". She loved the "glorious hawthorn hedges in bloom" consisting of the white 'May' flowers which she and her fellow estate owners had gathered as English children.

Although it is considered a weed today, its cultural significance should be respected. In an increasingly denuded landscape, its value as a refuge for many of our displaced feathered and furry friends is critical for their survival. Its attributes also extend to craft wood, medicines, food, tea (remember to use those 'tiny tips') and a Moorish hawthorn berry wine.

Blackberries, Rubus fruticosus and rosehips, Rosa rubiginosa (famed for its Vitamin C content), were introduced for their versatile fruits, and hedging abilities. Their aggressive weed status attracts huge resources in an attempt to control their spread.

Ironically the botanist Baron Von Mueller regarded blackberries as a valuable plant for the colony - hedges with luscious berries, nectar supplies and leaves for herbal tea and medicine). Religiously after boiling the billy, on his botanical sorties, he spread the seeds in the ashes. He mused that "Poor people in times to come will bless me for my thoughtfulness".

Although only touching the surface of the many uses of members of the rose family (not forgetting the vicar's rose petal champagne), it is hoped that you are a little more inspired to grow and enjoy the lesser-known 'Roses' and to weed out the odd 'Rose' weed.

From "Eucryphia", the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Tasmania) via 'Native Plants for New South Wales', January 2008.

* Acaena novae-zelandiae and Hawthorn (Crataegus monogynus) from Wikimedia Commons and reproduced under the GNU Free Documentation License. Geum urbanum is also from Wikimedia Commons but is in the public domain.

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Australian Plants online - 2008
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