What is this thorny plant that sprouts up all over

Asked May 18, 2017, 1:47 PM EDT


This plant was growing in my boyfriends old flower beds (they had not been taken care of for a long time before I came around). We pulled the big plant out of the ground with a tractor & continue to dig up the ones that seem to be shooting out the ground all over the flower bed. They are very painful if you touch them - full of thorns - and it seems like even part of the roots underground have thorns! I assume there is still some root underground and it keeps having branches grow off it and sprouting up all over. I would dig down until we could find the main root but this is all growing around a large beautiful lilac bush that we really do not want to lose. I was wondering if you could tell me what this is? And if you have any suggestions on how to get rid of it? It has become difficult to weed this garden as more and more branches of the plant seem to be coming up everywhere! They cannot be pulled out, the roots are in so far and are large. We end up digging down as far as we can and cutting the root. And then it comes back up within a couple weeks later! Thank you for your help!! :)

Chittenden County Vermont vermont rugosa rosa

1 Response

Hello Chittenden County, Vermont!

To me, there is absolutely nothing more gorgeous than a Rose. In your case, a rose bush - a Rosa rugosa (since it’s planted next to your Lilac) this is my educated guess. Also known as: rugosa rose, beach rose, shrub rose, Japanese rose. I can’t tell you exactly which cultivar you might have, but it is a rugosa. For now, let’s hope it’s not a R. multiflora, which has feather or comb-like margins (a narrow, green like structure located at the base of each leaf). I’ve included a photo of the typical R. multiflora leaf for you to compare, just in case. If it is, get back in touch, and we can discuss removal of the shrub. Otherwise, you might think twice before destroying the rugosa you have.

By summer, this shrub will be covered in the most sweetly fragrant blossoms. I have to say, these flowers have to be the most rose perfumed flower of all roses. There is nothing subtle about their fragrance, except that it is fabulous! Every pollinator in the area will be flocking to it for a taste of its perfection. Yes, it has prickles (or thorns as you mentioned), but so do most roses. Worth it for the fragrant and plentiful flowers this shrub offers. The flowers will give way to orange to red rose hips in the fall. The ‘hips’ can be made into a wonderful Rose Hip Jelly or Jam! This is truly a shrub that keeps on giving, since the foliage turns a wonderful yellow/orange to even shades of red comes fall. Can you tell how much I enjoy this shrub of roses? Even with all its prickles, it is a must have shrub.

It might appear a bit shaggy, or even wild in appearance. Rugosa generally grows about 5 feet high, and usually no more than 6 feet (maybe 8 feet) wide. The rugosa does require a bit of space. The draw backs, as you have mentioned, are their thorny nature. As long as they aren’t growing in an area where they can’t get caught up in your arm as you walk by, they fit well in most landscapes.

Crowding out your lilac doesn’t sound like the best place for your rugosa, and it was unfortunate that the previous owners didn’t understand the virtues of “Right Plant, Right Place”, as they would have seen fit to place the rugosa where it could have thrived and not crowed the Lilac.

Typically, rugosa does not like or take well to heavy pruning and I am surprised that yours continues to keep popping up. It must be very well established. I do hope you reconsider and instead of trying to destroy your rose, perhaps a compromise would be best suited for all. Why not dig up a section of the shrub and move it to a sunny well-drained spot where it can be free to grow, undisturbed. And continue to cut to the sprouts that might shoot up near the Lilac. It may take some time, but the shoots will eventually die. This way you end up with two beautiful blooming shrubs, instead of just one! It would be ashamed to lose such a lovely garden gem.


Best of luck with your Rosa rugosa and your Lilac!

I hope this information has been helpful! If you have additional questions, please get back in touch.


UVM Extension Master Gardener Program Volunteer

Photos attached