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Plant Profiles: Rosa glauca

Rosa glauca
Rosa glauca

Drawing by Rene Eisenbart


How's about a

Red-leaved rose (but don't be fooled)

Upright, arching, multi-stemmed rose with exceptional foliage; 6 to 8 feet

Sun to part shade; drought-tolerant once established

Pruning's a snap: keep the plant simple, tall, and arching, and cut out old canes

Deciduous shrub

A rose may be a rose, but add blue foliage and this rose confounds its genus. So atypical is the blue-leaved Rosa glauca that it unites two famously warring factions, gardeners who mollycoddle roses and those who spare no canes.

Being guilty of hacking many a hybrid tea, I have abiding faith in this upright and arching multistemmed shrub which -- even without flowers -- smells just as sweet (okay, I'll knock it off). Suffering from none of the narcissism of other roses, it does not devour attention but happily adapts to the role it's given. With its strong shape and the sense of motion that comes from its tumbling, poised-in-midair habit, R. glauca works as a hedge, in a mixed shrub border, or as a specimen among perennials.

This dusty rose is simply unequaled in its genus for foliage, whether it appears bluish gray in full sun (with shimmering overtones of burgundy and mauve), or with an icing of silvery gray-green in part shade. Its color, like its habit, is a pleasure to work with, since it enhances everything that grows near it. I've admired it mixed with the moody purple leaves of smokebush (Cotinus), the airy lavender flowers of meadow rue (Thalictrum), and the steely blue spikes of blue oat grass (Helictotrichon). Perhaps you have a golden groundcover that might glow brighter in blue leaved shade.

R. glauca flowers a clear (albeit almost scentless) pink, with a white center studded by prominent yellow stamens. These blossoms are simple, single, and open-faced: less than two inches across and held in small flat clusters along the plant's arching frame, they seem to surf their way from branch to branch. In late summer, the flowers give way to bunches of orange rose hips that quickly fade to brownish-red, not prominent enough to scream out from a distance (for that you need R. rugosa), but a welcome ornament all the same.

The descendent of R. canina, the ancient dog rose, R. glauca was introduced prior to the 1830's, yet surprisingly to my knowledge there are no cultivars in the trade. I know absolutely nothing about hybridizing -- perhaps, as with the Montagues and Capulets, there are political reasons why this species doesn't mix with others -- but a white flowered R. glauca would seem just the thing on a hot, thirsty day.

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    Plant Profiles are excerpted from Plant This! by Ketzel Levine


    Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.