Roses as food are a thorny subject

Jim Lee: Local Columinst

I haven’t stolen any ideas from Don Criss lately. So I’m a bit overdue for some literary larceny, don’t you think?

Today’s topic emerged the other day during the Criss-Stasheff-Scott-Lee coffee ritual when I began bragging about how well my rose bushes had been doing after replacing the deceased ones. The live ones do tend to grow much better than the dead ones, or so my biologist friend Tony Gennaro tells me. While I reveled in the throes of convincing my morning coffee pals of my botanical expertise, Don said something about roses as part of a food group.

I cleverly replied that roses are actually flowers, but one can use the thing that replaces the flower when it drops off (rose hip) as a source of vitamin C. However, a rose by any other name is still a flower, not a fruit.

Of course this became a verbal opening for my friend. Don pointed out that apple trees have flowers while being in a food group. As a matter of fact the state flower of Michigan is the apple blossom. (Now there’s an obscure little gem to tell somebody who doesn’t care.) Deductive reasoning at the most primitive level will therefore indicate a flowering plant can be a food plant.

OK, so he had a point. But he couldn’t let it just rest there. No wonder his TV show is called “You Should Know.” Maybe I should know, but he does know.

To add something really pithy to his observation, Don claimed that not only is the rose related to plants in a food category — that category includes apples. Furthermore, this plant family (Rosaceae) includes not only apples, but pears, plums, peaches, strawberries, and raspberries.

If I accepted his assertion, I’d have to change my entire outlook on life. The charm of applesauce and lure of strawberry shortcake would never again brighten my life.
And what about peach cobbler? The delight of plums and prunes? And (gasp!) what of the intense joy of raspberry jam?

All this lip-smacking gustatory bliss has been nothing but a maze of deceitful rose bushes?

How can I possibly accept this? It’s like chomping a peanut butter and thorn sandwich. The roses are pretty, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat them.

How can bouquets be desserts? How can food replace those colorful arrangements at weddings and funerals?
Be honest now, does a vase of long-stemmed Granny Smiths do anything for you? Would you use a container of prune potpourri to make the room smell better?

With logic like that, I had to be right. Don had to be taking me for a mental joyride through the jolly jargon of botany. So I did some research. I’d show him I wasn’t as gullible as he thought. Roses in a food family indeed. I’m not some clod who just fell off an apple cart.

Research time.


Well, the Rosaceae family is about 3,000 different kinds of trees, shrubs, and herbs, mostly found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. I found about 30 subfamilies with more variety than a person can find in a gumbo pot. On top of all those other plants, I came across wild cherry, oso berry, oriental hawthorn, salmonberry, thistleberry, and loquat (a fruit from China and southern Japan).

All right, Don got the best of me this time — but just wait till I tell him the story of the vast Chihuahuan Swamp and its two-headed crocogator.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: