Rosa minutifolia; Baja Wild Rose:
by Cheryl Miller
A member of the Rosaceae Family (Rose) and the genus Rosa, Rosa minutifolia
is one of 2830 species in 95 genera of this Family from around the world.
This wonderful wild rose is known as Baja Wild Rose, Small Leaf Rose or Ensenada Rose in
English and Rose Silvestre in Spanish. It grows only in northern Baja California as far south
as El Rosario north through San Diego County to the Otay Mesa in California along the Pacific coastal plains and foothills.
Although, it has been cultivated and it is used to some degree as a landscape plant, it is so rare in the wild, due to the exploding population growth in those regions that it is on the Endangered Species List and may soon be extinct.
This rose has many traits of wild roses with flattened petal structure and a plethora of yellow tipped stamens standing upright from the center of its bright pink petals. It leaves, however, are unusual when you think ofa rose leaf. They are small shiny toothed, curled leaves that are compact and only about a quarter inch wide and no more than one inch long. The grey-to-red tinted stems are quite thorny with masses of prickles on the undersides of the flower. This rose has a slight rose fragrant, but is quite a challenge to cut for a vase due to the multitude of thorns. Central ovules are borne on short stipes with a distinctive style that is short and woolly. The plants can grow as high as 6 ft and equally as wide. But one is noted in the journals being planted in 1954 to have reached 32 feet across by 1990. In the wild, such prolific growth is not found due to drought and other influences.
Most of the remaining Wild Rose stands are a found in the desert chaparral communities in the coastal areas, free of frost and mild winters. Leafless in summer, it easily survives as long as nine months without water. It responds rapidly to the sudden rains and sets flowers and seeds quickly. It is known as the xerophytic rose because it sheds its leaves during the summer months when rain fall is non-existent and water is thus conserved by the plant. Newly blossomed leaves begin to appear in the fall usually with the first rains of October, a repeating theme of desert plants.
First discovered by Dr. C. C. Parry in 1882 in Baja California and he recognized it as a new and distinct species and sent material to a Dr. Engelmann in St. Louis for evaluation. Engelmann noted "this was a most striking and lovely species, distinguished from all other roses by its minute, deeply incised leaflets. Englemann described the Rosa minutifolia in subsequent botanical and scientific journals of the period. .
An interesting twist to that botanical safari in 1882 was that a young botanist named Jones joined Parry and his scientific companion Cyrus Pringle on their expedition that spring. Upon discovery, young Jones claimed the discovery for himself, fighting with the renown botanist and increasing tensions on their journey. Tensions came to a head in Tijuana on their return, where Jones had reportedly pulled a pistol on the expedition’s wagon driver, Mr. Orcutt in Tijuana, when the team planned to set out to San Diego on Sunday April 15th. Two sets of claims have been made for this violent outburst. The first, Jones claimed, was that he was too religious to travel on a Sunday (So he pulled a gun?). The other account came from Parry, where he stated that young Jones failed to pay his share of the expenses and was to be left in Tijuana unless he paid, causing his hasty gun pulling response. Young Jones gained a reputation amongst his botanical peers for his hot headedness and aggressive behaviour making it difficult for the rest of his life to obtain publication of his discoveries or a serious attitude towards his papers. And if the truth be told, Dr. Parry helped him along to be ostracized after this outburst in Tijuana. A little bit of Wild West History with a botanical twist!
One of the first and oldest specimens of Rose minutifolia was collected from Baja in January 1883, a part of the Cleveland Collection initiated when their natural history museum was founded. Other specimens of the rose date from 1938-1980, etc. with the first California specimen collected by Jack Reveal in 1985 after discovery by Royce Riggan in 1984 on Otay Mesa, San Diego County. The Quail Botanical Gardens has been named the official repository of the rose’s germ plasma in an effort to keep the rose from extinction. Other than the small garden in the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encintas California, the only other official showing of the species variety is in the garden of the San Diego Wild Animal Park maintained by the Lake Hodges Native Plant Club, Inc. Santa Ana Botanical Garden has grown the rose in past years, as well as Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, but on a small scale. Plant enthusiasts at Quail Gardens and the Wild Animal Park hope to propagate the species variety for further dissemination but the rose is known to be difficult to propagate from cuttings and only the species variation from Baja sets seed which are viable. The variety from Otay Mesa does not set seed. Saving this rose is presently a difficult and painstaking proposition.
If you encounter this rose in your travels here in our wonderful Baja Peninsula, please take pictures only, do not cut or remove it. Let’s preserve it for the next generation.