Rose Family


Updated by Marc Williams                                  May, 2018

Rosaceae / Rose Family / Rosales

A link to a photo album of members of the Rosaceae can be seen a Thomas Elpel's site below


The taxonomy of Roses is rather complex. There are many genera that cross readily at the species level. Famous ones in this regard include Rubus, Amelanchier and Crataegus (Lance, 2004). The family is also typically broken into 4 sub-families.


The Rosaceae is one of the major families for fruits in the temperate world including Apples (Malus spp.), and Pears (Pyrus spp.). Plums, Cherries, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, and Almonds are all in the same genus (Prunus ). Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) and Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.) are a few wild genera that are foraged for food. Many shrubs including cane fruits (Rubus spp.) and Roses (Rosa spp.) are also edible. Apple wood is used to smoke food and impart a special flavor.


Cyanogenic glycocides are present in some members of the Rosaceae. However, they are rarely ingested by humans at levels high enough to cause serious damage (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). Livestock have been especially negatively affected by consuming wilted cherry leaves (Kingsbury, 1964). Cyanide is deactivated by heating or drying and is apparently not present in the Rose subfamily. Some people are allergic to members from this family for other reasons. Agrimony (Agrimonia  spp.) and Tea rose (Rosa odorata) in particular can cause contact dermatitis (Nelson, Shih, & Balick, 2007). Triterpine saponins are other potentially toxic compounds that occur in the Rosaceae as well (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008).


Most plants in the Rosaceae provide copious amounts of early pollen and nectar for bees. Here around Asheville, i relish a Blackberry honey that is available in limited quantities from local bee keeper Greg Rogers. Pest insects and diseases can be hard to control for Apples especially. In case you are interested, my senior project for an undergraduate degree at Warren Wilson College focused on organic production of Apples in Appalachia. Diseases tend to often affect plums, cherries and peaches too.

All of the following information on Butterflies and Moths came from the fabulous book Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy (2009).

Numerous members of the Prunus genus in the Rosaceae are hosts for Butterflies. The Cherry/Plum/Necatarine genus hosts the Red Spotted Purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis astyanax). The Coral hairstreak butterfly is hosted by Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). The American Plum (Prunus americana) and Cherries host the Striped Hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium liparops). Black cherry hosts the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus).

Other members of the Rosaceae are hosts for moths as well including Cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia) Io (Automeris io), Small eyed sphinx (Paonias myops) Black Etched Prominent (Cerura scitiscripta) Yellow-necked Caterpillar (Datana ministra) and Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum).

Wild Black Cherry and Apples are the hosts for Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea). Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina), Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) Meadow Rose (Rosa blanda) and Southern Crabapple (Malus angustifolia) are hosts for the Apple Sphinx (Sphinx gordius). Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are hosts for the Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe). Hawthorns are also hosts for the Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa). American Plum and Wild Black Cherry are hosts to the Wild Cherry Sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum). Apples host the Large tolype (Tolype velleda) and White Marked Tussock (Orgyia leucostigma). The Prunus genus hosts the Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea).


Several members from the Rose family are considered invasive. Shrubby Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) and Eelkek (Rubus moluccanus) are both not listed in the Blue Ridge Flora but are high priority invasives for many states (Miller, Chambliss, & Bargeron, 2006; Wofford, 1989). Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) can be somewhat invasive locally but is cherished for its beautiful fruit. Wild Strawberry (Duchesnea indica), Sulphur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana), and Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica) all have a history of invasiveness. Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) is one of the worst exotic invasives in the eastern U.S. (Amerine, 2000; Miller et al., 2006; Randall & Marinelli, 1996) A single plant of Multiflora rose can produce a million seeds a year (S. R. Kaufman & W. Kaufman, 2007).


Apples (Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967)

Cinquefoil (Potentilla spp.) (Bliss, 1993; Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008)

Pear (Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967)

Peach (Prunus persica) (Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974),

Brambles (Rubus fruticosus, Rubus idaeus, and R. tricolor) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974).


The Rosales as defined by APG2 are a significant order for fiber plants though not in the Rosaceae per say. These fiber families includes the Nettle (Urticaceae), Mulberry (Moraceae) and Hops (Cannabaceae).

Literature Cited

Amerine, J. W. (2000, November). Biological Control Agents of Multiflora Rose. West Viriginia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Bliss, A. (1993). North American Dye Plants. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.

Cannon, J., & Cannon, M. (2003). Dye Plants and Dyeing. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Eaton, A. H. (1973). Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. New York: Dover Publications.

Fern, K. (2008). Plants for a future - 7300 useful plants database. Plants For a  Future. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from

Frohne, D., & Pfander, H. J. (2005). Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Kaufman, S. R., & Kaufman, W. (2007). Invasive Plants. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Kingsbury, J. M. (1964). Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Krochmal, A., & Krochmal, C. (1974). The Complete Illustrated Book of Dyes from Natural Sources. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Lance, R. (2004). Woody Plants of the Southeastern United States: A Winterguide. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Miller, J. H., Chambliss, E. B., & Bargeron, C. (2006, January). Invasive Plants of the Thirteen Southern States. Invasive and Exotic Species of North America. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Nelson, L. S., Shih, R. D., & Balick, M. J. (2007). Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

Nicholson, S. M., & Clovis, J. F. (1967). Dye Plants and Dye Methods in West Virginia. Castanea, 32(2), 111-116. doi:10.2307/4032274

Randall, J. M., & Marinelli, J. (1996). Invasive Plants: Weeds of the Global Garden. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Updated Ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Wofford, B. E. (1989). Guide to the Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.


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