Many Iowans have been studying the history of Iowa this year as we celebrate the state's 150th birthday. This is a good time to take a close look at the flower given the distinction of being "Iowa's State Flower".
Many settlers in Iowa admired the rose growing wild throughout the state. In 1896, the Iowa legislature selected it as the motif on a silver tea set presented to the U.S. Navy and used on the battleship Iowa. A year later, on May 6, 1897, with the advice of State Federation of Women's Clubs in Dubuque, the legislature designated the "wild rose" as the state flower of Iowa.
Several wild rose species are native to Iowa. However, the legislature did not designate a specific wild rose species as our state symbol. Three "wild" roses native to Iowa can be considered our state flower: Rosa arkansana, Rosa blanda, and Rosa carolina. The individual species are difficult to tell apart because they are very similar in appearance and they hybridize easily and naturally.
Rosa blanda (meadow rose) is found in Iowa's prairies, meadows, and open woodlands. This shrub-like plant will grow to four feet tall. It produces large showy pink flowers from June through late summer. The fruit, called "hips", resemble small apples, and are about half-inch in diameter. Rosa blanda is most often given the honor of being the state flower, even though it is common only in the northern half of the state.
Rosa arkansana (Arkansas rose) is quite similar to R. blanda. It is a small shrub that grows in a wide range of soil conditions. This rose is found in prairies, meadows, and open woodlands. It grows up to 3 feet tall and blooms in June with masses of pink to dark pink, fragrant blossoms. The small, red, apple-shaped hips appear in late summer.
Rosa carolina is another wild rose species that can be seen blooming in meadows and woodlands throughout the state.
It is said that three rose hips from these wild rose species contain as much vitamin C as one orange. Meskwaki and Menomini Indians boiled the hips to make a syrup for various food uses. Indians and pioneers ate the hips, flowers, and leaves when other food was scarce. The hips of wild roses are considered an important food source for wildlife.
- Nature's Heartland. 1990. Bill Boon and Harlen Groe. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA.
- Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands. 1995. Sylvan T. Runkel and Alvin F. Bull, Iowa State University Press, Ames IA.
- "The Goldfinch" newsletter, 1995. vol. 16, no. 3, State Historical Society of Iowa.
This article originally appeared in the September 13, 1996 issue, p. 158.