As deserving as roses are of the superlatives that come their way, they're just a small number of the more than 3000 species in the rose (Roseaceae) family. Roses belong to a wide range of plants that includes everything from low-growing herbs to large, fruit-bearing shrubs and trees. Genetic engineering has produced rose cultivars with dozens of petals. Wild roses and most of their relatives, however, have five petals surrounding profusely stamened centers.
Wild Virginia strawberry (Fragraria vesca) brightens prairies and fields across the United States with its charming white spring flowers and brilliant red summer fruit. Its berries are the sweetest among all wild strawberries, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Many commercially produced strawberry strains, in fact, are descendants of Virginia strawberry. This perennial herb spreads along the ground, with each of its 6-inch leaf stalks (petioles) bearing a single green leaf. After its April-to-June blooms fade, its seed-containing berries appear where their centers were. They're an important wildlife food. Virginia strawberry likes sun to partial shade and dry, slightly acidic soil with a pH below 6.8.
Drummond's mountain-avens (Dryas drummondii) form 8-inch deep mats of glossy, deep green leaves on mountain slopes from Montana west to Oregon and north to Alaska. A single plant can be 3 feet across, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Between May and July, the plants have upright stems with solitary yellow blooms. Their erect petals give the plants a permanently closed appearance. Plume-like fruit follows the blooms. This perennial herb likes sunny, well-drained location with dry, gravel or sand-based soil.
A woody-rooted perennial, Bowman's root (Gillenia trifoliata) once served as a laxative for Eastern and Midwestern Native American tribes. Standing 24- to 36-inches high, it brightens the mountain woods with white or pink spring blooms. The flowers hang in loose clusters from upright stems. Their eye-catching red calyxes (groups of protective outer petals) continue the display when the flowers fade, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Bowman's root does best in partial to full shade and fertile, dry, rocky, acidic soil.
Representing the rose family throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan mountains, Alaska spirea (Luetkea pectinata) is a 4- to 6-inch high summer bloomer. Forming mats of finely divided, deep green foliage, it has upright clusters of white to pale yellow blooms. They appear from June to August, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The plant thrives in shady mountain glens where spring snow is slow to melt. It's a good ground cover for partially shady, well-drained spots with moist soil.