Burnet Rose

Creamy-white Burnet Roses are everywhere on the coastal heaths from May through to July.

Photo: © Natural England/Neil Pike

Scientific name: Rosa spinosissima (previously R. pimpinellifolia)

Other common names: Scots or Scottish Rose

What to look for:

  • Family: Rosaceae (Rose family)
  • Flowers: Single creamy (occasionally pink) flowers up to 4 cm in diameter, with golden-yellow stamens.
  • Leaves and stem: This plant forms a low shrub with both prickles and bristles on its stems; small leaves arranged in sets of three to five pairs. Young stems and mature leaves are often flushed red.
  • Height: Up to 50 cm
  • Where: Often found near coasts, including dunes, heaths and scrub. Inland on limestone pavements.
  • When: Flowers from May through to July.
  • Habit: Grows by suckering, sometimes has a creeping habit.

The creamy flowers of the Burnet Rose are a feast for the eyes and the nose, spreading across the heathland in early summer with their honeyed jasmine scent. You are most likely to come across it in dunes or on clifftops, but it can also be found further inland on more calcareous soils. Like other Rosa species, R. spinosissima has thorns on its stems, as well as bristles (as you might guess, the species name spinosissima means ‘very spiny).

Did you know…?

…Although common around Britain, the Burnet Rose is particularly associated with Scotland. Hugh MacDiarmid wrote of it: ‘…the little white rose of Scotland…sharp and sweet…’.

…The Burnet Rose is a popular species for use in rose breeding, and has been so since the nineteenth century. In particular, it was used to produce double cultivars called ‘Scotch roses’.

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: June 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Below – Steve Townsend
; other images – © Natural England/Neil Pike