A tub of rose hips, gathered from roadsides and abandoned pastures upstate, and stripped of their thorns. The hips will be used to decorate the Museum this winter. Photograph by Carly Still
The rose hips used in the winter holiday decorations at The Cloisters allude to the rose symbolism prevalent in medieval Christmas carols. Although we grow medieval rose species in the gardens and on the grounds, their hips are too fleshy for our purposes, and don’t keep well. We gather stems of Rosa multiflora, which bear many small, hard, hips, in October, and strip them of their thorns. They are stored in a cool, dry place until December, when the Museum is decked for the season.
R. multiflora, or Japanese rose, is an invasive alien species introduced from Asia in the late nineteenth century as a rootstock for cultivated roses; in the 1930s, it was promoted by the U. S. Soil Conservation Service to control erosion and create cattle fences, and was subsequently used on highway medians as a crash barrier. This rose is often found on waste ground, roadside verges, and abandoned pastures throughout New York State. The arching canes of the shrub root themselves when they touch the ground, and impenetrable thickets can be formed. It also spreads by seed. By harvesting the hips, we are helping to control a noxious weed, and availing ourselves of a beautiful and significant embellishment for our decorations.
Rose hips are used in the arches, which adorn four of the doorways in the Main Hall; for more on these elements, see “Decking the Halls: The Arches” (December 2, 2008). For more on rose hips as a food and a medicament in the Middle Ages, see “Hips and Haws” (November 20, 2009).