You may recall that the Prairie Public Radio Spring Pledge Drive involved a tree planting effort at Sweet Briar Lake 16 miles or so west of Mandan. It might surprise many North Dakotans, but Morton County is home to Sweetbriar Dam and Lake, Sweetbriar Creek, Sweetbriar Township, and the town of Sweetbriar.
Sweetbriar is the common name of a species of rose (Rosa rubiginosa). The plant is also known as sweetbriar rose, eglantine, or eglantine rose. It is a rose bush that grows from three to four feet or more in height. It is known for its stout prickles, which is where the “briar” comes from, and the leaves have a sweet, apple-like fragrance; so sweetbriar it is. The fragrance of sweetbriar is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
The Sweetbriars of Morton County are reportedly named after the sweetbriar that grew in this area in the late 1800’s. There is one small problem though. Sweetbriar is not native to North Dakota. It is native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Like many other plants native to Europe, however, it has been introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental, and is now becoming naturalized in some states. But I have not seen any documentation of it in North Dakota, and it is not listed in the Atlas of the Flora of the Great Plains published in 1977. It is, however, well documented in Montana and Minnesota.
So perhaps someone planted some sweetbriar in the area back in the 1800’s and it has since died out. But I suspect that one of our native rose species was misidentified as sweetbriar. We have four species of roses native to North Dakota, but woods rose (Rosa woodsii) may have been confused with sweetbriar. Woods rose is a common large spiny rose bush that is found across the state on a variety of habitats and grows to a height of 3-4 feet or more. By the way, woods rose is not necessarily associated with trees or woods. Rather, it is named for British botanist John Woods who was curator of the Botanic Garden at Durban in the late 1800’s.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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