Country diary: this first wild rose will not be pigeon-holed


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pring, so eagerly anticipated, so riotous, has sashayed into summer. All that remains of crab apple, hawthorn and rowan blossom lies as petal confetti on the pavement. The blackcap in the copse I walk past daily is subdued, its melodious courtship tempered now by the caution of a parent with a brood to protect. Dandelion clocks alongside footpaths have blown away, replaced by frothy cow parsley.

For meteorologists, summer begins on 1 June. Astronomically, summer solstice, 20 June, is the magical date. But the natural transition between seasons defies precise measurement. It is the accumulation of countless small events and today, on my morning walk, one such was the blooming of the first wild rose of summer. But which wild rose? There are many. In the few places locally where it can be found, the first is always burnet rose, Rosa pimpinellifolia, easily identified by its ferocious, dense prickles, creamy blooms and intense fragrance. No matter what Shakespeare’s Juliet might have asserted, no native rose by any other name smells as sweet.

Resinous glands on the underside of sweet briar leaves emit apple fragrance
Resinous glands on the underside of sweet briar leaves emit apple fragrance. Photograph: Phil Gates

But this day’s rose has bright pink flowers and its resinous leaves have a faint aroma of ripe apples when I rub them. So that makes it sweet briar, eglantine, R rubiginosa. Or does it?

Maybe the sweet briar I’m sniffing is a mongrel offspring with a dog rose, R canina, known to hybridise with at least 10 other species, confounding precise identification. By a peculiar quirk of genetics, its hybrids inherit most of their characteristics from the mother plant, with a smattering of paternal characteristics – in this case, perhaps, apple foliar fragrance from sweet briar. Juliet was right, though: no mere name can detract from the delight in finding the first wild rose of summer.

Dog rose (Rosa canina) frequently hybridises with other wild rose species
Dog rose (Rosa canina) frequently hybridises with other wild rose species. Photograph: Phil Gates
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Classifying, plucking order from chaos, whether nailing down transitions between seasons to a moment in time or striving to name wild rose species, is a deep-seated human impulse. But there is something humbling in the realisation that such conceits are accountancy conveniences, that the cycle of the seasons is a never-ending continuum of tiny events, and that new wild rose species may be evolving in hedgerows before our very eyes.



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