Common Name: Multiflora rose
Scientific name: Rosa multiflora
Identification: Multiflora rose is a multi-stemmed, thorny, perennial shrub that grows up to 15’ tall. The stems are green to red arching canes with stiff, curved thorns. The leaves are compound and each leaf is made up of an odd number of leaflets, with one leaflet at top and 3-4 pairs growing down the leaf stem. Leaflets are oblong, bright green in summer, 1-1½” long and have toothed edges. White, fragrant 5-petaled flowers about 1” across occur in abundant clusters on the plant in late spring. Fruit are small, about ¼” diameter red rose hips that remain on the plant throughout the winter. Each hip contains 6 to 12 seeds. Multiflora rose has simple, shallow roots extending from a woody root-crown. Arching stems can form new roots if they come in contact with the soil surface. (Dirr 1998)
Look-alikes: Multiflora rose can look similar to native wild roses, such as prairie rose (R. arkansana), meadow rose (R. blanda), Carolina rose (R. caroliniana), swamp rose (R. palustris), and climbing wild rose (R. setigera). Most of the native roses have pink flowers, while the flowers of multiflora rose are white. The characteristic most helpful from determining multiflora rose from other rose species is the presence of green fringe on leaf stems where they meet the stalk.
Multiflora rose is reported throughout most of Great Lakes Basin. It is most common in the central parts of the Basin with the densest infestations reported in Southwestern Michigan, near Cleveland, Ohio, in Western New York, and near Toronto. It has been reported only in isolated instances in Wisconsin north of Green Bay, and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is absent in northern Minnesota. Nationally, this species is common throughout the eastern and central U.S. with a few instances also reported on the west coast. The cold hardiness of multiflora rose is unclear, but is at least to Zone 4b (minimum temperature of -25oF). This likely excludes it from the northern-most areas of the basin under the current climate.
Additional invasive species distribution data for specific Great Lakes jurisdictions are available via:
The seeds of multiflora rose are spread by birds and wildlife that eat the fruit.
Multiflora rose prefers open and disturbed habitats like old pastures and fields, forest edges, transport and utility right-of-ways, prairies and savannas. It thrives in a wide range of soil and environmental conditions, but is not found in standing water or in extremely dry areas (Munger 2002).
Once multiflora rose is established, it can form impenetrable tangled, thorny thickets that restrict human, livestock, and wildlife movement and displace native vegetation. One mature plant can produce up to 500,000 seeds yearly, and seeds can remain viable for a decade or two (Munger 2002). Multiflora rose hips are a favorite food of birds, which then disperse seeds over large areas. Over time, a single multiflora rose seedling or shoot can produce an infestation more than 33 feet in diameter (Munger 2002). The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service estimates that about 30% of Midwestern pasture suffers from encroachment by multiflora rose (USDA-NRCS 2016).
Multiflora rose was originally introduced to North America as a rootstock for other rose species and is still commonly used for this purpose. The grafting process largely prevents multiflora rose from flowering, though gardeners growing grafted roses should watch for and manage any suckers.
Multiflora rose became invasive in the early to mid-1900s through its promotion and use as an agricultural and roadside hedge, and as wildlife cover and forage. Today, multiflora rose’s invasiveness is broadly recognized. In Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 5 ed. (1998), Michael A. Dirr warns “use this species with the knowledge that none of your gardening friends in the immediate vicinity will ever speak to you again.”
Please see our Landscape Alternatives pages for more information about how the WIGL Collaborative selected alternatives.
|Alternatives for Multiflora Rose
Common name (Latin name)
good for hedging
|Smooth rose (Rosa blanda)||✔||✔||✔|
|Pasture rose (Rosa carolina)||✔||✔||✔|
|Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba)||~||✔||✔|
|Landscape roses (Rosa x.)||~||✔|
~Trait is present, but not as strongly as in check-marked examples
Green = native to part of the Great Lakes Basin
Blue = not native but not invasive
The following is a brief overview of management techniques shown to be effective on white multiflora rose. For more detailed information on how to use these techniques, please visit our Management and Control page. For technical assistance on managing woody invasive species, please get in touch with a local cooperative invasive species management group.
Timing and spread concerns: Whenever possible, individual plants should be controlled before they are able to fruit in order to prevent spread. If control is undertaken after plants have fruited, it is best not to remove the plants from the site to avoid spreading seed.
Physical control: Multiflora rose is seldom pulled by hand due to its thorniness but it can sometimes be dug or pulled using equipment. Roots must be removed to prevent resprouting. For dense infestations, top-killing methods such as mowing and grazing can be effective but must be repeated several times throughout the growing season for 3-5 years to reduce the population. Research indicates that mowing would need to be repeated 3-6 times over the growing season for 2-4 years to effectively kill the plant roots (Munger 2002). Grazing by goats can produce similar results to mowing, but requires the same 2-4 year duration of treatment (Luginbuhl et al. 1999).
Chemical control and combined approaches: Foliar spray is the most feasible method for a large, dense infestation, and is effective anytime plants are actively growing and fully leafed out. Foliar application can be done as a stand-alone practice or can be used as a follow-up to mowing or grazing when foliar herbicide is applied to regrowth later in the season. Cut stump and basal bark herbicide treatments are effective and can be applied year-round. However, timing of cut stump treatments may be limited based on mower access as hand cutting will only be practicable on very small or localized infestations. In all cases, herbicide should be selected carefully based on site conditions, and label directions read and followed carefully.
Biocontrol: Multiflora rose has some biological enemies, including the rose rosette disease, a virus spread by mites, and a species of Japanese wasp whose larvae feed on the seeds. However, neither of these is approved for purposeful release as biocontrol agents due to uncertain impacts on native roses and on crop species in the rose family.
Resources on management of multiflora rose:
- Dirr, MA. 1998. Rosa multiflora In: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Fifth Edition. Champlain, IL: Stipes Publishing. 906-907.
- Luginbuhl, JM, Green, JT Jr., Poore, MH and JP Mueller. 1999. Use of goats as biological agents for the renovation of pastures in the Appalachian region of the United States. Agroforestry Systems. 44(2-3): 241-252.
- Munger, GT. 2002. Rosa multiflora. In: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.
- United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service. 2016. Invasive plant species on pasture lands.
Photo Credit: Multiflora rose has clusters of white flowers at the end of its canes in late spring/early summer (Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, via bugwood.org)