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Assorted Color of Rose Flowers
Photo by David Bartus via Pexels

I was talking with someone about roses the other day. Ok, we were both bragging about our roses, and how well they grow, despite our challenging environment. As flowers go, roses are impressive. For good reason; they’re gorgeous. They’re among the most widely celebrated flowers around. Not that everyone grows them, for many reasons, but they’re not all as hard to grow as you might think. Despite record breaking heat and life in southern Nevada, my roses continue to survive. Not that they’re thrilled with drought and record high temperatures, but unlike too many other shrubs, they won’t just keel over and die unless their soil’s dry.

Nothing survives without water, but remember, soil amended with compost can hold water without drowning the plant. And a layer of mulch, whether it be chipped bark or anything else slows down the rate of evaporation. This is one way to reduce water use but still have some non-desert landscaping.

Roses would certainly be happier if conditions were a bit less challenging, but they grow and produce flowers. In fact, as long as they have sufficient water and nutrients, and I’ll admit, a small amount of protection from the elements, quite a few rose cultivars’ll be reliable.

When I say quite a few, it’s because we can select from such a large number of rose varieties, from all over the planet. Most of us think of a beautiful, red, fragrant, hybrid tea when we hear the word “rose.” And there’s lots of glorious varieties, in red, white, yellow, and pink, but that’s just one small set of blooms among many.

While they may have originated in Western Asia, they’ve hybridized, either by themselves or with human intervention, so that now there’s over 2,500 species and hybrids. In some ways, they’ve evolved almost everywhere, except Antarctica and Australia. Now of course, you can find them in Australia, too.

Over the course of that conversation, I mentioned the rose “family” and got a blank look. I pointed out that people love to organize things, and we organize life into categories. Family’s just one category, and the rose family has far more than the blossoms we admire so much. According to Wikipedia, it’s not even a particularly large family. It is, however, a diverse one, all under the title of Rosaceae.

So many of our popular fruit trees are members. Believe it or not, apples, pears, peaches, plums, almonds, apricots – they’re all distant cousins, as well as strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Then there’s the non-edibles, like red tip photinia – such a pretty plant that looks so bad by the end of summer – and pyracantha, which we know as firethorn. Beautiful, but it lives up to that name.

Unlike our favorite flower, not all family members do well in the heat, although most will tolerate some rough conditions for short periods of time. It’s more than just environmental problems, though.

Family members often share the same pests.

All members of Rosaceae can have aphids, and thrips, and a few diseases as well. Here in Southern Nevada our plants don’t have to deal with many diseases – one of the benefits of desert life– but there’s one that can be a problem. It’s called “fire blight” because it looks like someone took a torch to the young growth of twigs. Bacteria cause it, so chemical controls aren’t useful. I authored a fact sheet on controlling fire blight; it’s on the UNR website.

What’s funny about this disease, if any disease can be called funny, is that it attacks most members of the rose family, but not roses! Yet another reason to appreciate these plants. 

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan, Nevada’s Social Horticulture Specialist.