Prickly Rose


Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis), the floral emblem of Alberta, is one of three wild rose species that grow in our region.  The common or thorny wild rose (Rosa woodsii) and the dwarf prairie rose (Rosa akansana), found mainly in the Waterton Park area, are the other two. In our region, the three species may grow together and sometimes interbreed.

Two distinguishing features of the prickly rose are: single rather than clustered flowers, and spiny stems throughout (i.e. prickly).  The Rosa woodsii has fewer thorns and they occur at the nodes (Johnson et al. 58, Gadd 277).

Flowers, Leaves and Fruit

When the prickly rose blooms in late spring we see and smell the typical fragrance of the pink five-petalled flowers. A special treat is seeing half-open buds and fully-open roses all gracing the same stem. Fully-open roses show a deep pink petal that is almost white at the center, where a cluster of yellow stamens attracts insects.

The toothed leaves grow in bunches of seven or nine, remain green until late fall when scarlet pear-shaped or fully round and fleshy fruit—the rose hips—start to form. Rose hips stay  all winter and can provide important survival food for wildlife.


Found along trails, road and field edges, and in open aspen forest, this ubiquitous shrub can be as short as 30 centimeters in dry open areas, and stretch to 1.5 meters tall in wooded areas.

You can enjoy this fragrant companion along the trails in June and early July; in October and November, you can snack on a few rose hips as you go by. “Three rose hips are said to contain as much Vitamin C as a whole orange” (Johnson et al, p 58). Be sure to spit out the seeds, though, as the little hairs covering them are an irritant to our digestive system.


  • Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., MacKinnon, A. and Pojar, J. Plants of the Western Boreal Forest and Aspen Parkland
  • Gadd, Ben. Handbook of the Canadian Rockies


Wild White Geranium

Wild White Geranium (Geranium richardsonii) is a perennial, 40–80 cm tall, easily recognizable as a geranium by its FIVE main but up to seven irregularly lobed and “deeply divided, lightly hairy leaves” (Parish 263, Gadd 291).

This species of the Geranium family “was named for Sir John Richardson (1787–1865), the Scottish botanist assigned to Sir John Franklin’s expedition to Arctic America” (Parish 263).


As with other geraniums, each flower has FIVE petals that are quite hairy at their base (centre of the flower) where there are FIVE generally bristle-tipped sepals. The petals are white but may be pinkish, and may also have pink or purplish insect-guiding lines to the centre.


  • Gadd, Ben. Handbook of the Canadian Rockies
  • Parish, Coupé, Lloyd. Plants of Southern Interior B.C.


Found in late June along the Pipestone Creek trail, in airy, open aspen and poplar groves. The Wild White Geranium prefers dry rather than moist conditions.

Later in the season, you might see the FIVE parted seed capsules with long beaks shaped like a crane’s bill (Parish 263). The number FIVE seems to be a good identifying feature for this plant; check tame geranium plants in gardens and flower pots for comparison.


Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) has large rounded clusters of star-shaped pink or purplish flowers atop stems with lance-shaped leaves showing distinctive white veining. Softly greyish-hairy throughout; hollow stems with milky juice. The plant ontains “poisonous resinoids and cardiac glycosides” (Parish 249)

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) is a related species—smaller, with more oval leaf shape and greenish-white flowers.


“Milkweeds are pollinated by insects that get little horseshoe-shaped pollen-carriers called pollinia clipped onto their legs as they enter the flower. They must break the pollinium free to leave. Some cannot and are trapped. The rest fly to other milkweeds, where the pollinia detach upon entry just at the right spot for fertilization. Smart flowers!” (Gadd, 339).

Monarch Butterfly Nursery

In southern Alberta*, this plant is part of a bigger design. The Eastern Monarch butterfly** lays its eggs (300 to 400 each) on the underside of milkweed leaves. As the larvae feed on the plants, they accumulate the poisonous glycosides, to which they are immune. Birds do not like the taste of these chemicals and therefore avoid eating the monarch larvae and butterflies. Declining occurrence of milkweed in North America directly impacts this beautiful insect (Nature Conservancy, 13; Parish, 249).

* Monarchs are most common in Alberta near the U.S. border where milkweed is abundant, but they have been seen as far north as Edmonton (CBC).

**The Eastern Monarch ranges from Alberta to the Maritimes and winters in Mexico. Western Monarchs occur in British Columbia and migrate to coastal California in winter.



Found late June along the Pipestone Creek trail, on the sunniest, driest slopes high above the creek.