Roses are arguably the most widely known and universally adored plants in the world, at least in temperate climates. Likewise, the larger family they belong to, Rosaceae, is equally popular among gardeners, yet few recognize the tremendous number of commonly known species that comprise it, including a large number of edibles.
Apples, with their velvety soft white petals tinged with pink, hint at a relationship to roses, but less obvious are the many berry plants in the Rosaceae family, including strawberries, blackberries and raspberries (though the latter at least share the trait of thorniness). Apples and pears along with the more obscure quince, medlar, rowan, mayhaw and the subtropical loquat are some of the edible fruits that round out the pomes, one of the many subtribes of the rose family. Pome fruits are characterized by the four distinct seed chambers familiar to anyone who has ever sliced an apple in half.
Stone fruits – peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and their kin – are the other major grouping of edible fruits in the family. These are all in the Prunus genus and are linked by the traits of their seed, which we call a pit. Have you every opened a peach pit and seen something that looks like a shriveled almond inside? If so, you won’t find it surprising that almonds are essentially a peach tree that has been bred for the edible qualities of the seed, rather than the fruit.
Of course there are much more than edibles in the Rose Family including many common ornamentals bearing the rose-like traits of showy flowers, fleshy fruit, serrated leaf margins, thorns and woody stems, including a great number of shrubs and trees such as photinia, dogwoods and hawthorns.
There are also a number of small herbaceous plants in the family, like meadowsweet, lady’s mantle and potentilla. In total, there are over 9,000 species in the rose family. Within this immense diversity of form, there is one way to differentiate them from any other plant: if it has oval leaves and flowers with five petals, it is most likely a cousin of the noble rose.