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Rosa spinosissima


R. spinosissima L. (= R. pimpinellifolia L.) is an easy species to recognize because of the black hips in the autumn and the reddish spiny twigs with bristles and prickles. In Britain and other parts of Europe small growing plants of this species occur. Large growing plants, e.g. 1.5-2 m in height occur in Asia (Siberia and Western Asia) and also some cultivated forms reach this height. It is not clear if variants of R. spinosissima L., like var. altaica Willd., and var. hispida (Sims.) Boom., which are often cultivars, have their origin in this Asia distribution area.

Chromosome No. 2n = 28 (Stace 2010).

Rosa spinosissima

Photography: A.J. Lockton


It is an holarctic plant with main occurences in Europe and Central Asia. The European Rosa spinosissima L. covers nearly the entire area of central Europe and is subdivided into two growth variants, which are consistent even if grown under the same environmental conditions. The Maps Scheme map shows it occurs almost throughout Britain and Ireland, mainly on the coasts. The data in the Maps Scheme indicate a decrease of the the species in the last two decades.

BSBI Hectad Map 

Click on the map to view full-size on the BSBI Maps Scheme website.


The British Isles has a long coastline, and on these many different plant communities for dunes with R. spinosissima are described. Rodwell et al. (2000) lists in the British Plant Communities the two communities SD8 Festuca rubra-Galium verum fixed dune grassland and SD9 Ammophila arenaria-Arrhenatherum elatius dune grassland, whereas Rhind & Jones (1999) found locally for Wales the sand dune communities SD6 Ammophila arenaria mobile dune community; SD7 Ammophila arenaria-Festuca rubra semi-fixed dune community; SD10 Carex arenaria dune community; SD12 Carex arenaria-Festuca ovina-Agrostis capillaris dune grasland and SD18 Hippophae rhamnoides dune scrub. Most of the inland plant communities have a dry and open character, but also scrub communities are frequent. They are planar and can go up to sub-alpine heights. For Britain the communities are OV38 Gymnocarpium robertianum-Arrhenatherum elatius community in the Gymnocarpietum robertianae (Kuhn 1937) R. Tx. 1937 and H11 Calluna vulgaris-Carex arenaria heath (Rodwell et al. 1998).

Rosa spinosissima

Photography: A.J. Lockton

  • Origin: native.
  • Rarity: it is not a rare species in Britain, but in Germany the red list mentions it as 'Near threatened'. However, the coastal communities in which the species occurs are threatened by neophytes entering the natural habitats at the coastal dunes, such as R. rugosa Thunb. and other variants of the species like R. spinosissima var. altaica Willd., which were introduced for coastal protection (Henker 2000). Also anthropogenic factors, as walking through the habitats and stamping on the plants lead to a decrease of the populations. Inland populations are mainly threatened by decreasing habitat sizes caused by succession and change of land use.
  • Threat: in Britain it is currently listed as being of ‘Least Concern’.
  • Conservation: none known.
Further Work 

The introduced species Rosa rugosa Thunb. and cultivated R. spinosissima var. altaica Willd. might introgress into the natural gene pool of R. spinosissima. For the latter reason it is important to know the extent of difference in the genepools of natural R. spinosissima in the distribution area and nursery material.

I need help for sampling the British populations, e.g. coordinates of coastal and inland stands of the species.

Eike Mayland-Quellhorst is appealing for information on Rosa spinosissima throughout Britain, seeking localities and requesting specimens for genetic analysis.

  • Henker, D. H. 2000. Rosa. In: Conert, E.; Jäger, J.; Kadereit, J.; Schultze-Motel, W.; Wagenitz, G. & Weber, H. (Ed.), Illustrierte Flora von Mitteleuropa, G. Hegi.
  • Rhind, P. & Jones, P. 1999. The floristics and conservation status of sand-dune communities in Wales, Journal of Coastal Conservation 5 : 31-
Mayland-Quellhorst, E. (date accessed). Species account: Rosa spinosissima L. Botanical Society of the British Isles.