Bright Red Wild Rose Hips

October 16, 9 am.

Fall is a time for wild berries and seeds – our oaks are full of acorns, the madrones full of their red-orange berries, dogwoods have their purple berries, poison oak has pale white berries, and the wild rose has its bright red “hips.” These are the ripened, usually red or orange accessory fruit of a rose that consists of a fleshy receptacle enclosing numerous achenes. I find some of the California wild rose, Rosa californica, still blooming next to a bush that is full of those bright red rose hips. This brings to mind a quote I have seen from Mary Elizabeth Parsons (The Wild Flowers of California,) “The wild rose is one of the few flowers that blooms cheerfully through the long summer days, lavishing its beautiful clusters of deliciously fragrant flowers as freely along the dusty roadside as in the more secluded thicket. In autumn it often seems inspired to a special luxuriance of blossoming, and it lingers to greet the asters and mingle its pink flowers and brilliant scarlet hips with their delicate lilacs.” Since we have asters that are blooming nearby, this quote makes a profound impact on me.

The late summer blossoms and fall fruits are key components for the survival of a variety animals and insects. Many small mammals use the wild rose for protection and as a home. Wood rats, rabbits, voles, ground squirrels, raccoons, and foxes find this plant a suitable bush for making a burrow or nest, just as many birds do too. The flowers are important nectar sources for pollinators and the hips are important in the winter when food is sparse for birds such as thrushes, sparrows, and quail.

Wild rose has been, and still is, utilized by humans for its medicinal and aromatic qualities. The hip is said to contain more vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, and iron than oranges. During WWII in England, hips were gathered for their abundance of these vitamins and minerals. Hips can be dried for tea or used for jelly and sauce. They resemble a small, dry apple in appearance and taste. Flowers have long been used in folk recipes for butter, perfume, candy, jelly, and tea. The Cahuillas pick the buds and eat raw or soak the blossoms in water to make a drink. Other tribes make tea from roots for colds, and from leaves and fruits for pain and colic. Wood was used for arrow shafts and fiber from bark was used in making twine and other goods. What a useful, important, and lovely bush it is!