Georgia State Flower - Cherokee Rose

The Cherokee (Rosa laevigata) is a wild rose, known to rosarians as a “species” rose. It is frequently hybridized, and varieties include the pink-flowered “Anemone Rose,” and red hybrids such as “Ramona.” Georgia’s state flower has lovely white flowers and, like many wild roses, is somewhat cold hardy. Common along Georgia’s Trail of Tears, the only place within the state you won’t find it in abundance is northern Georgia after a particularly cold winter.

Facts

The first thing you may notice about the Cherokee rose is that it is full of thorns, a trait common to many species roses. It bears flat, fragrant, white roses with golden yellow stamens. Cherokee rose typically blooms once per season, in early spring, but if conditions are conducive it may re-bloom in fall. While the Cherokee rose is a shrub, it’s considered a climbing shrub and readily scrambles over nearby plants to a spread of 15 to 30 feet.

History

As with the selection of a floral emblem in many states, it was a women’s group that pushed for the adoption of the Cherokee rose in Georgia. The resolution adopting the flower officially was signed and passed in 1916. The text of the resolution contains an error, which exists to this day. It claims that the Cherokee rose is "indigenous” to Georgia’s soil, when, in fact, it is native to China and was introduced into North America from England. Horticulturists with the Cobb County Extension program claim that there is ongoing research to determine if the plant is also native to Georgia.

Cultivation Notes

A wild rose is the perfect plant for the beginning rosarian. They’re tough, generally cold hardy and drought tolerant. The Cherokee rose grows in either wet or dry soil, heavy or sandy. Even though it prefers full sun, it tolerates some shade. The ideal situation offers the rose lots of water, but it will be fine with sporadic, light irrigation. You may need to prune it more often than standard roses as it has a tendency to take over the garden, climbing over whatever is in its path.

Significance

In 1838, the United States government forced the relocation of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Oklahoma. The journey was long and treacherous, and when it was over, 4,000 people had lost their lives. A Cherokee legend tells of a beautiful white rose that sprung from the ground wherever a Cherokee mother’s tears fell. Today, Georgia’s state flower, blooming along the Trail of Tears, symbolizes both the Cherokee’s journey and their grief.

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