Rose Anatomy

Get the Snickering Out Now . . .

I know when you see the word “Anatomy” your mind probably goes back to Sex Ed class. But don’t worry, this isn’t that kind of blog. Here we’re just talking about rose anatomy.

Rose Anatomy 101

As summer turns into fall, the rose season, sadly, is drawing to a close. But on the bright side, the season of rose hips is finally here! I’ll attempt to explain what rose hips are and why you want them, but first it to really understand rose hips, first we need to understand flower anatomy and fruiting.

Flowers get pollinated when the pollen from an anther makes its way to the stigma of another flower of the same species (or the same flower, if it is a self-pollinator). Pollinators like bees often aid in this process. The pollen travels down the style and fertilizes ovules in the flower’s ovary. Once the flower is pollinated, the ovary structure typically develops into fruit, while the ovule typically develops into seeds. The petals often fall away and the plant shunts its energy into the fruit, giving less energy to new flowers. I’ll explain why this matters to the rose gardener, but first let’s look at the anatomy of a rose bush.


Here are a few more important terms for you:

Calyx: When you are looking at a bud, what you see is the calyx. This is the word for the flower’s outermost covering, which is generally composed of green leaves known as sepals. The inner layers, which are generally the colorful ones that we prize flowers for, are the petals. In some plants (like Poinsettias), the sepals are actually the showier of the two, forming what is called a “false flower”.

Stigma and Anthers: The stigma is the “female” part of a flower, containing a swelling called the ovary. Anthers are the “male” parts of the flower that produce pollen.

Here is a fantastic video from the renowned Rosarian Paul Zimmerman where he defines several other common terms related to roses. Take a look:

In this video, he does a wonderful job of explaining and clarifying several esoteric terms that you might here rose gardeners bandy about, like: Outward-Facing Bud Eye, Main Eye, Guard Eye, Five-Leaflet Leaf Set, Bud Union, Basal Break, Blind Shoot, and Rose Hip.


Why Rose Hips Matter

In most modern roses, selective breeding has made the filaments shrink down while the petals proliferate and grow larger. The result is that most modern roses are much harder to pollinate because insects simply can’t get down to the pollen. Many single roses, shrub roses, and/or species roses are still able to pollinate “the old fashioned way”, but the hardest-to-pollinate rose species generally rely on rose breeders to keep propagating them.

You might not be a rose breeder who cares about getting viable rose seeds, but you should still pay attention to rose hips because 1. You want your plant to keep blooming, and 2. You want your plant to survive the winter. So, throughout the blooming season you should keep your roses from forming hips. You do this by deadheading (snipping off spent blooms) whenever the petals start to fall off. Doing this keeps sending the signal to the rose that it hasn’t successfully bred yet, and it needs to keep producing more flowers. In the fall you want to STOP deadheading and instead let your roses set hips. This sends the signal to your plant that it has done its job and can stop flowering and start getting ready for winter. A rose that is still trying to bloom when the first frost arrives is much more likely to suffer frost damage than a rose that has already gone dormant.

Rose hips are also a nutritious, Vitamin C rich treat. You can enjoy them yourself by making rose hip jam or jelly OR you can leave them on your shrubs and give the local birds a snack to help get them through the winter.