A ROSE BY ANOTHER NAME?
Article #69, March, 2003
By Bill Cook
When we think of roses, images of trees seldom appear. Roses are members of the plant family “Rosaceae”, which includes 24 genera and nearly 150 species in Michigan. The complex rose family is one of the largest and most diverse in the world with plant forms ranging from herbs to trees.
Apples, cherries, mountain ashes, juneberries, and hawthornes are members of the rose family. There are many woody rose species but the line between shrubs and trees becomes unclear.
Using a tree definition of a single main stem at least five inches in diameter and a mature height of at least 15 feet, we can include cherries, apples, pears, and mountain ash. Occasionally, species of juneberry and hawthorne will take tree form. There is lots of room for exceptions and argument.
Typically, the trees have attractive flowers, evidenced by “blossom festivals” for cherries and apples. The white-flowered shrubs in the leafless spring understory are often juneberries. There are many horticultural varieties for commercial fruit production and landscaping.
Fruits from these tree species, and other rose family members, are important sources of food to many species of wildlife, and people. My favorite fruit-eater is the cedar waxwing, as I once watched the birds get tipsy feeding on fermented mountain ash berries during an otherwise dull statistics class.
Only the black cherry has commercial timber value, commanding respectable stumpage prices. The best black cherry growth is in the Lower Peninsula, but there are some good areas in the U.P. as well. This fine hardwood is commonly recognized in cabinetry and furniture.
The sweet cherry is a native of Eurasia and is the tree that produces commercial cherries. Apples and pears are also non-native species brought to North America for cultivation. Choke and pin cherries are native shrubs and small trees that produce fruits good for canning, jellies, wines, or eating off the branches.
Three species of mountain ash, two natives, typically occur near Lakes Superior and Michigan. Clusters of off-white flowers and red-orange fruits make attractive additions to landscapes. The European mountain ash is sometimes called a rowan tree.
Juneberries and hawthornes seldom grow to tree size, although some impressive specimens can be found. Hawthornes are a particularly complex genus, with 45 species listed for Michigan. Hawthornes often have long thorns and pink flowers. Juneberries are elegant shrubs that often have hundreds of white blooms.
Other familiar members of the Rosaceae include blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, potentillas, spiraeas, and of course, roses. Worldwide there are about 120 genera and 3300 species. Many are important in agriculture and as ornamentals.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
J Road, Escanaba, MI 49829
906-786-1575 (voice), 906-786-9370 (fax), e-mail: email@example.com
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