If it hasn’t happened yet, it soon will. Always near Memorial Day weekend does this special natural event take place at sandy beaches around New York Harbor.
Beach rose plants are starting to bloom. Call it what you will, saltspray rose, seaside rose, dune rose, beach rose, or even the wrinkled rose, a rose by any other name found around New York Harbor is Rosa rugosa.
Although this ornamental plant is believed to originate from Japan, it flourishes here among the high dunes, poison ivy, and beach plums along certain sandy strips around the harbor, and along the Jersey Shore and southern shore of Long Island.
This wild beach rose blooms pretty rose pink or sparkling white three-inch round flowers. So sweet smelling and fragrant, the flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators, including several species of bees and wasps. The plant welcomes these pollinators with open flowers to help spread the love to other wild beach rose plants. While the plant can bloom to early autumn, the height is usually during late spring and early summer.
Come early fall, as the flowers fade, beach roses will welcome birds and mammals as the plant produces bright orange-red rose hips or seed pods. They are about the size of a large berry and are edible, though a bit tart tasting with some sweetness, like a crabapple. Roses are in the same family as apples, so there is a resemblance of rose hips to apples in flavor and form. Rose hips are also a great source of vitamin C. Of course never taste rose hips from plants that have been treated with a pesticide or herbicides, only wild plants.
So enamored was Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg, of the form and flavor of beach roses that he imported the plants to Europe from the Far East, where they eventually found their way to America by the late eighteenth century. Supposedly, Thunberg adored the crinkly petals of the beach rose flowers so much that he was the first one to give the plant it’s scientific name, the “wrinkled rose” or Rosa rugosa.
The plant does well in nutrient-poor soil along the shore, where shifting sands, full sun, and salt spray provide a favorable environment for the beach rose to grow, but where lesser plants often perish. No doubt, it’s a tough rambling rose, and it has the thorns to prove it.