The Last Rose of Autumn

Macartney Rose (Rosa bracteata) ~ Galveston Island

Lovely though it may be, Macartney rose rivals the Chinese tallow tree as a scourge upon the land. Another native of China, introduced into the United States as a landscape plant or means of natural fencing, it arrived in southeast Texas in the past century. Thanks to the wide dispersal of seeds by birds and cattle, it’s now spread to pastures and rangeland, and can be found in every nature center or wildlife refuge I visit.

Although not considered a noxious plant, it’s considered invasive for good reason. According to the TexasInvasives database:

Macartney rose forms dense thickets, displacing native grasses such as the endangered white bladderpod, and altering native wildlife habitat. [Its presence] greatly decreases forage productivity of cattle pasture and adds to the economic burden of land managers.

Still, its flower is undeniably lovely, blooming late into the year — even into December — near the coast. It requires nothing more than a change from ‘summer’ to ‘autumn’ (or even ‘winter’) for the words of Thomas Moore’s 1805 poem to capture the poignancy of its increasingly sparse flowers as true winter approaches.

‘Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.
I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o’er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow
When friendships decay,
And from Love’s shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone.


Comments always are welcome.

41 thoughts on “The Last Rose of Autumn

  1. I am sure we are never going to be able to rid ourselves of all the invasive species we have imported – and not only plants. Some species are a huge problem.

    1. One species that’s especially problematic here is the feral hog. Everyone seems resigned to the fact that eradication is impossible. Control is what’s hoped for. The history of their explosion is interesting, especially since, at least in Texas, it’s quite recent. The Smithsonian published one of the best articles I’ve read about them; you might find it interesting.

    1. Yes, and often without any understanding of the problems that can cause. When it comes to introduced species, the law of unintended consequences isn’t far away.

      Of course, some species have arrived here accidentally, through such means as ships’ ballast. Zebra mussels probably entered the Great Lakes when ships arriving from Europe discharged ballast water containing zebra mussel larvae. Eventually, they made it to Lake Texoma, and now are spreading among Texas lakes. One of the primary means of transmission seems to be fishermen who move their boats from one lake to another without properly cleaning them. I’ve seen notices in varying places reminding people to be mindful of the damage they can cause.

      1. Zebra Mussels are a huge issue in the Great Lakes, clogging intake pipes, clinging to floating docks and boats etc., but the population of diving ducks has increased exponentially during the winter months due to this ready source of food.

        1. That’s interesting, and it reminds me of our previous discussion about the cormorants, where population increases in some places has been at least partly related to increased food supply. By the way, I finished reading Linda Wires’s book about the cormorants, and enjoyed it immensely.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful, how poems two centuries old and older still can speak to us? In a time when anything before last Wednesday sometimes is considered ‘old,’ it’s lovely to renew connections to those who’ve preceded us.

      I first learned of the troublesome lupins when I was learning about bluebonnets. I like your phrase: a visual delight and an environmental headache. That’s it, exactly.

    1. It does resemble the magnolia, and some of the flowers can be quite large: not quite as large as this, but nearly so. I’ve heard it called the ‘fried egg flower,’ thanks to its large, golden center and those pure white petals. It is a beautiful thing.

  2. It would be nice to be able to say that its beauty makes up for its menace in the landscape but alas that is not the case down south. I don’t think that I have ever seen this wild one in my neck of the woods and maybe it’s a good thing but it surely has a gorgeous bloom.

    1. One thing I’ve found interesting is how few pollinators I see buzzing around these flowers, even in late fall, when they’re among the most obvious and pollen-heavy flowers around. I’ve read that the ubiquitous ‘knock-out roses’ won’t attract pollinators; whether that’s true for this species, I don’t know. They do serve as shelter for some birds, so they have that in their favor.

      The USDA map shows them in McLennan County, so they’re at least present near you, but they might have established out on rangeland where they’re not as obvious.

      1. I believe you are right about the knock out roses. I planted two about two years ago and there is no scent at all. I have never seen a bee on the blossoms so, yes you are correct about no scent-no pollinators.

  3. I’m not in agreement with the last two lines….. “bleak world” isn’t how I see this place, despite difficulties. Or am I reading it out of context?
    As for interlopers, of all kinds, no arguement at all, for the damage is immense. Of course, I can see modern grains used commercially in the same light.

    1. I think you and Moore are talking of different worlds. I read his reference to a bleak world in the context of his loss: the bleakness of a world without the familiar friendships and “fond ones” who had provided companionship and comfort. In fact, those lines reminded me of my mother’s experience near the end of her life, when all of her good friends and nearly all of her family had died, and she alone remained. Then, the world could look pretty bleak to her — at least, at times. It had less to do with the nature of the world than with her experience of it.

      I remember how astonished I was to learn that our monarch butterflies had been introduced to New Zealand, along with certain milkweeds: the tropical, as I recall. My recent experience has reminded me that moving furniture around’s one thing; you always can move it back. Moving species around the world can be more problematic.

  4. For anyone interested in reading about successful invasive species removal I recommend “Rat Island” by William Stolzenburg.

    1. The book looks fascinating, and now is on my list. When I was reading the reviews, I had to smile at the references to snipers and use of helicopters. “Heli-hogging” was a thing here for a while, used as a means of gaining control of feral hogs. I think it’s fallen out of favor, primarily because there just are too many hogs for it to be effective — or cost-effective, at least.

    1. The plant isn’t only a danger to other plants, it’s a real dickens to deal with when you run into it. I swear it’s thornier than dewberry, and extremely hard to get through. I’ve also discovered that certain nature centers and refuges where it’s thick will mow it down to ground level — be careful when sitting!

  5. Lovely image and a hard-to-solve problem. I’ve been involved in a small way in invasive species removal projects and education in my area. To pick just two species, Japanese knotweed and oriental bittersweet are so well established around here that eradication isn’t possible. It’s more a question of picking a location you care about and trying to bring it under control there.

    1. That’s exactly what some people try to do with this plant. There are management techniques recommended for ranchers and others, and while simple, they do require attentiveness because of the multiple steps that are necessary.

      Here, it’s Japanese honeysuckle and Japanese climbing fern that are problematic. I remember Steve G. mentioning the oriental bittersweet. I grew up with bittersweet in Iowa, but didn’t realize until the last decade that our native isn’t the only bittersweet in the world. I tried to find some of the native the last time I was in the midwest, but gave up, and brought home some nice artificial sprigs instead.

  6. Does this have a scent, Linda? It’s quite pretty, and I like that it blooms almost to winter (realizing your “winters” are far less harsh than ours, ha!) Still, it’d be awful to be the last flower standing, wouldn’t it?

    1. I don’t remember any scent at all. Of course, all of those prickly stems helped to keep me away — they really are nasty. The flower is especially pretty, though. Cultivated, fancy roses are fine, but I like the simplicity of the wild roses.

      Right now, there are roses galore blooming here. They’re the so-called ‘knock-out roses,’ and they’re used for everything from backyard landscaping to traffic medians. I looked up some articles about them in your area, and it might be something you’d want to consider for the space where that storage shed was. Apparently they’re fairly disease and pest free, and they don’t require the kind of fussing a lot of roses need. They’re more shrub-like, and can take some cold weather, too. Anyway, it’s an idea.

      1. Great idea, Linda — thank you! We had some knock-out roses a few years ago, but we had to have them taken out because they just got too big for the space they were in. This, however, is a fairly large area and might be just the thing!

  7. Back when I studied voice in high school, I had to learn the “art song’ with those lyrics, and I hated it. So Victorian. But the rose is pretty, even if invasive.

    1. I laughed when I read this in the Poetry Foundation article about Moore: “Moore possessed talent, not genius, and recognizing the difference, he worked hard to compensate for his deficiencies by the sheer bulk and unquestioned variety of his work.” Perhaps the art song was part of that compensation for you.

      I like all roses, but I love wild roses, which helps to explain this one’s appeal. Of course, it’s white, too — a plus that makes up for some of those minuses.

    1. I’m smiling because the commenter just above you wasn’t at all a fan of the song: another bit of proof that the eye (or ear) of the beholder certain does play a role in how any bit of creativity is perceived. I’ve always enjoyed the poem, despite the air of poignancy — or perhaps because of it!

    1. It’s beauty and the beast, all in one neat little floral package. When I accidentally find myself inside a patch of them, I try to remember the birds and other creatures that find safety and shelter there.

  8. I know some folks who won’t photograph or post invasive species. But if we are appreciating beauty, which this Macartney Rose certainly displays, then it seems a good thing to share that. Eradicating invasives is a difficult undertaking and part of that is their tenacity once established. We’ve a few here that pose a problem but nothing like Kudzu or your feral hogs…or these roses.
    Aside from native or invasive, this is a lovely image and the white exposure was handled perfectly maintaining detail and capturing tones..

    1. I think there are good reasons — beyond aesthetic appeal — to post photos that display the beauty of invasives. When I began paying attention to plants, I wasn’t aware of the distinction between native plants and invasives. I had to learn the difference, and learn why, despite their beauty, it isn’t a good idea to add more Macartney rose, or trifoliate orange, or Japanese honeysuckle to the landscape.

      I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come across people admiring this rose: at the Dudney Nature Center, at Artist Boat (where this photo was taken), at the Brazoria refuge. Many of them have no more idea of its negative consequences than I once did. They’re only attracted by its beauty. While “plant people” understand the problems invasives pose, many people don’t, and it seems to me that an occasional post highlighting their appeal and explaining their negatives isn’t out of order. Ignoring them isn’t going to eradicate them, and helping people to recognize them — or begin looking around for their own invasive species — may be helpful.

      Anyway — thanks for the good words about the image. I really was pleased with this one. I have trouble photographing both white and yellow flowers, and I thought this one turned out well.

      1. What you have written pretty much sums up my attitude as well. I belong to a Facebook group dedicated to native plants and it quite often happens that someone posts an image of a non-native without the knowledge of it’s invasiveness. Having people informed goes a long way. Not all non-natives are invasive so it seems unnecessary to shun those that are easily controlled and good botanical citizens.
        Indeed it did turn out well. It doesn’t always guarantee good results, but I will generally expose for the brightest area, in this case the petals, and then evaluate the histogram before making further exposures based on what I see on the camera’s rear screen.

        1. Uh — I think I’ve heard of a histogram, but I sure never have evaluated one. It sounds like a medical term. I’ll have to go read up on it, and see if I can confuse myself. That’s never hard!

  9. It IS pretty! But I imagine you have other roses hanging on later? At least in gardens? I remember seeing them in NYC into December, such a lovely, poignant sight, even when they’re scraggly and barely hanging on.

    1. The roses I see most are the knockout roses; they’re used in traffic medians, subdivision plantings, and such. Most are red, but there’s one street lined with gorgeous salmon ones that look as though they might be knockouts, too. Roses can be grown here, but I rarely see one — it’s touchy, because of the humidity and soils. In fact, I think our only native rose is Rosa setigera , a climber that’s found quite far north and east, along the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders. I’ve seen it — but on a Missouri prairie!

  10. This is the first time I hear about ‘knockout’ roses, and your image shows a beautiful flower as any rose can be, either wild, hybridized, or invasive. Reading further, ‘knockout’ roses are hybridized and do not produce high levels of nectar. It just amazes me how humans manipulate with plant genetics.

    1. It’s true: the ‘knockout’ roses aren’t good for much of anything as far as the insects are concerned. Landscapers love them because they’re essentially care-free; they fill traffic medians, commercial frontage, and large public areas around places like hospitals here.

      On Christmas day, I found one of the Macartney roses in a stage I’d never seen before. I wasn’t even sure it was the same plant, but it had the same thorns, and leaves, and sepals. Eventually, I figured out what it was — I’ll be showing it in the near future. Even at a quite different stage it was beautiful. If only it weren’t so troublesome.

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