By: Mary Peterson, lpeterso[at]stny[dot]rr[dot]com
When a rose flower is fertilized with pollen either from another rose by the wind, insect, or bee, the result is the formation of a hip or rose fruit. Inside this hip are the seeds that carry the genetic mix from both parents and if germinated it will produce a completely new rose variety.
Toward the end of the season in colder climates, you will want to leave these hips on your roses to send the message to the plant that it is time to rest and go dormant. You can clean up your plants by removing any of the dead petals, but leave the hips in place to send this signal to the plant.
Many of the wild roses with a very short bloom period more than make up for this with lovely hips. Hips can fall into one of approximately 10 shape categories. The shapes include blobose, pear-shaped, obovate, rose-shaped, ellipsoid, spindle-shaped and flask-shaped. They also vary by colors and sizes along with textures and armaments such as bristles or prickles. Some may be black, while others are orange and shapes vary in size and can resemble polished hard shells. Most hips are in the red category. They can range in size from very small, either singles or clusters, to very large resembling crab apples or cherry tomatoes.
In recurrent roses, hips are not particularly desirable as they drain the plant’s energy and prevent subsequent flowering. This is why rosarians ‘dead-head’ these varieties to encourage subsequent flowering. Many cultivars are sterile, so cannot set fruit; when they ripen, the flower-stalks turn yellow and drop. This can be a desirable feature of a rose since the faded petals will drop cleanly from the plant. There are exceptions as with the Rugosas. R. rugosa is a repeat-flowering rose and can produce green hips, red hips and flowers on one shrub at the same time. In some rose varieties the hips are more decorative than the flowers and this ornamental feature is much prized by rose growers.
Even before 1939, rose hips were investigated for their vitamin content. Ancient cultures knew of the therapeutic effects of roses and they were frequently used in mendicants for a variety of ailments. In some varieties, the hips can contain more than four times the amount of Vitamin C as apples. The quantities of vitamin present in each species are very variable and tend to be higher in cool climates than in warmer ones. For example, most apples contain approximately 50 mg of Ascorbic Acid /.002 oz. R. haematodes has 29,000 mg /.01oz, R. sweginzowii macrocarpa has 1,100 mg./.04oz and R. rugosa regeliana has 940 mg./ .03 oz., while R. moyesii has 850 mg/.03oz. During WWII, the cultivation of roses for this purpose was encouraged, not only in Germany but also in England.
The use of roses as a source of Vitamin C has declined more recently because some of the varieties that provided large amounts of Ascorbic Acid are no longer commonly grown.
Fresh hips from R. canina were used as a diuretic, as a coolant, and a mild astringent. Both leaves and hips were used for infusions or tea. The hips from R. pomifera were made into preserves and also into a drink. It was very popular in certain areas of Austria and Bavaria. R. roxburghii hips were used by the Chinese to aid against indigestion and the Ainu in Japan ate the hips of R. rugosa. Always be sure that any rose material that you will consume has not been sprayed with any systemic or pesticide that has become part of the hip or petals.
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