Prickly rose
Rosa acicularis

Alaska Wildflowers | Pink

Pink flower of the Rosa acicularis ssp. sayi, or prickly rose

Prickly rose

Rosa acicularis

Common Names

Acicular rose
prickly rose
prickly wild rose




Rosa acicularis ssp. acicularis
Rosa acicularis ssp. sayi
*Both subspecies of Rosa acicularis occur in Alaska. However, Alaska is possibly the only region in North America (according to Flora of North America) where you can find ssp. acicularis, although it is much less common than ssp. sayi.

Genus: Rosa (wild rose)
Family: Rosaceae
Order: Rosales

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – subshrub

Identification and Information

Rosa acicularis is a low to medium shrub that forms dense thickets, 0.3-1.5 meters tall. It grows from extensive rhizomes allowing the plant to spread and often forming thickets. The stems are erect to arching and may be sparsely to densely branched with pale brown bark. There are internodal prickles present, the dense thorny structures found along the internodes of the stem (between the points where leaves or branches emerge from the stem). The leaves are deciduous. They are alternate, odd-pinnately compound, and usually glandular and hairy. There are typically 5-7 terminal leaflets on annual shoots 2-5 cm long. Leaflets are oblong-elliptic and dentate to serrate with 11-25 teeth per side and are often hairy.

The inflorescence is a corymb of 1 or 2 (sometimes 3) flowers on lateral branchlets. The corollas are saucer-shaped, measuring 5-7 cm across, with 5 petals that are pink and 2-3 cm long. The calyces (sepals) are spreading and lanceolate, long tapering before flaring below the tip. Each flower has 75-100 stamens with large yellow anthers and 18-33 carpels. Ovaries are superior but enclosed in the urn-shaped hypanthium (floral tube).

The pedicels reflexed as the rose hips mature. The hips are 1-2 cm long, pear-shaped, and orange-red or sometimes bright red or blue-purple. The 15-25 achenes (seeds) are near the base of the fruit (basiparietal), located along the inner walls of the hypanthium (the fleshy part of the hip). The remains of the anthers and filaments, as well as the sepals, often remain at the base of the hip.

There are two subspecies of Rosa acicularis that are found in Alaska.

Rosa acicularis subsp. acicularis:

  • Pedicels are densely stipitate-glandular (covered with glandular hairs).
  • Leaflets are usually 5 (or 7) in number, with margins typically 1(–2+)-dentate-serrate (toothed and serrated).
  • Sepal abaxial surfaces (undersides of the sepals) are usually stipitate-glandular.

Rosa acicularis subsp. sayi:

  • Pedicels are usually eglandular (without glandular hairs), but if stipitate-glandular is present, not extending to the apex, or glandular structures are mostly sparse.
  • Leaflets are usually 5-7 in number, with margins 1-2-dentate-serrate (toothed and serrated).
  • Sepal abaxial surfaces are usually eglandular (without glandular hairs).

It’s important to note that the two subspecies of Rosa acicularis, subsp. acicularis and subsp. sayi, have a circumpolar distribution in forests of Eurasia and North America. Subsp. acicularis is octoploid (eight sets of chromosomes) and found across northern regions of Europe and Asia, while subsp. sayi is hexaploid (six sets of chromosomes) and occurs throughout northern North America. There is an intergradation zone where the two subspecies meet, extending from eastern Siberia to Alaska, and possibly Yukon. Ploidy level is considered important for confirming the subspecies or hybrid status (as per W. H. Lewis, 1958) (Discussion in Flora of North America).


For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

There are extensive traditional and modern uses of Rosa acicularis for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Decoctions of the branches combined with other ingredients or alone have been used as cold remedies and antidiarrheals while infusions of bark have been used to induce vomiting by the Tanana Athabascans as well as tribes in British Columbia. It is used as a dermatological aid, a poultice of chewed leaves applied to bee stings. The Iroquois made a compound infusion of rose leaves and bard used as drops for the eyes. The Cree used a decoction of roots for a cough remedy. See a comprehensive list of medicinal and food uses on the Native American Ethnobotany Database here.

There is an even wider range of culinary uses for the prickly rose. The rose hips are probably the most used part of the plant for food and are an incredibly rich source of vitamin C. Traditionally, it is used to make juice, typically by cooking and extracting the juices from the rose hips and mixed with other juices. The leaves can be used to make tea. The rose hips are frequently used to make jellies, sauces, and ketchup, and they are easily frozen for future use.

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Distribution and Habitat

Rosa acicularis is widely distributed across the northern hemisphere, including Alaska, most of Canada except in the northeast, the rocky mountain states in the US, the upper midwest, and New England. In Eurasia, it is primarily found in Siberia, Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Japan, and the Koreas, as well as Sweden and Finland. GBIF does have more isolated samples from Europe, but I excluded countries where only isolated and sometimes individual instances were shown.

Prickly Rose lives in moist open forests, thickets, near rivers, streams, lakes, and seasonal ponds.


RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
FamilyRosaceae (roses)
GenusRosa L. (wildrose, rose)
SpeciesRosa acicularis Lindl. (prickly rose)
 Direct Children:
  SubspeciesRosa acicularis ssp. acicularis Lindl. (prickly rose)
  SubspeciesRosa acicularis ssp. sayi (Schwein.) W.H. Lewis (prickly rose)

References and Further Reading


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 17

Classification and Taxonomy

Rosa acicularis Lindl. Taxonomic Serial No.: 24812, ITIS Database


Rosa acicularis Lindl., Native American Ethnobotany Database

Map and Distribution

Rosa acicularis Lindl., GBIF Database

Rosa acicularis Prickly Rose, NatureServe Explorer

Description and Information

Rosa acicularis Lindley Ros. Monogr., 44, plate 8. 1820., Flora of North America


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