Rose rosette disease is good for some and bad for others

Everyone has heard the expression to be careful what you wish for. Sometimes a cure for one problem can cause another. Rose rosette disease is a prime example.

Years ago, multiflora rose was planted as natural fencing and for soil conservation in the eastern US. It was also used as a rootstock for ornamental roses. Over the years, multiflora rose became one of the thorniest problems for livestock farmers. It also lowered pasture land value.

When I lived in West Virginia, multiflora rose dominated pastures. Some were so infested that livestock productivity was a fraction of what it could have been. Deer liked to eat them, and these roses provided great cover for deer and rabbits. Most farmers wanted the roses gone and overused pesticides to do so.

The last few times I have driven around in rural West Virginia I have noticed far fewer pastures dominated by multiflora rose. I suspect the major reason might be rose rosette disease.

I remember back in the 80s many agronomists and livestock scientists I worked with were discussing how this disease was reducing rose populations in the Midwest. These guys were interested in pasture and livestock production. They didn’t have much concern about the influence of rose rosette disease on ornamental roses.

However, this disease can be spread on ornamental roses like ‘knock out’ types mechanically through contaminated grafts. It also can be spread from plant to plant through natural root grafts. Likely the most common way the disease spreads is through a tiny mite. This mite transmits a virus. That virus is the major culprit in the demise of the wild multiflora rose population.

Virus diseases cannot be chemically controlled like fungus diseases can. Scientists continue to develop chemicals that can deactivate or inhibit viruses. However, viruses, particularly plant viruses mutate rapidly to overcome this. Basically, chemical control is difficult.

Knock out and other types of landscape roses are becoming increasingly popular. Because of this, I suspect we might be dealing with rose rosette disease more in the future. Roses with rose rosette disease develop clusters of bright red shoots in the spring. We call these clusters witches’ broom. This abnormal growth is easy to spot.

Many virus diseases can be controlled by removing infected tissue back to healthy wood. This is not one of them. Entire plants must be removed from the area or an entire rose planting might be in danger.

Homeowners might wonder what their best course of action might be if they don’t have any signs of this disease yet. I would suggest eliminating any wild multiflora roses that might be nearby. Cutting down canes and treating the surface with concentrated glyphosate seems to be the best method.

The good news is that multiflora roses aren’t very common around here. I know where a few patches are, but in general, interaction between wild and cultivated roses is limited. Still, this disease is something to keep in mind, especially since most roses are grown in areas where wild roses are more common.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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5 Responses to Rose rosette disease is good for some and bad for others

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Do you happen to know what roses are susceptible to it, or is it primarily mulitflora types and those that are related to them?

    • tedmanzer says:

      It’s mostly the multiflora types, but they are used as rootstocks for many others. The good thing for you is that I haven’t heard of it at all on that side of the Rockies. I think California is safe, at least for now, and I’ve heard smuggling anything into Calli is tough.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Goodness! It is not that tough. Anything can be ordered through the mail. There is a long list of things that can not be brought in, but there is almost no enforcement. Cars drive freely in and out of Nevada, Oregon and Arizona. Back in the 1990s, when the border station was still active south of Oregon, I stopped with a station wagon full of tiny blue spruce. The inspector asked me if they were roses. I told him that they were spruce. He asked me if they were cane berries. I told him that they were spruce. He asked me if they were currants. I told him they were spruce. He asked me if they were apples. I told him that they were STILL spruce and that they would always be spruce. He let me in, and was nice enough to give me a list of quarantined plants for future reference (since I was planning another tip a few months later). After getting home, I found that spruce were on the list!

      • tedmanzer says:

        That’s wild! I’ve always heard you were in deep trouble if you ever got caught bringing banned species in.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Yes, but no one is caught!

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