Iowa chose the wild rose as its state flower in 1897. The previous year, Iowa's legislature had used an image of one of the state's wild roses for the official state motif. After the wild rose appeared on a silver tea set and as a motif used on the U.S. Navy battleship Iowa, it wasn't long before the flower was the official flower for Iowans.
Iowa has several wild rose species, each with its own champions. The 1897 legislative decree did not specify which wild rose species had been selected as the state flower of Iowa. Despite the resulting confusion and competition between native rose species, the wild prairie rose eventually became the official state flower of Iowa. It is the species that Iowa registered with the U.S. National Arboretum. Rosa arkansana is the wild prairie rose’s botanical name.
The selection process used by the Iowa legislature made it somewhat difficult to specify only one of its many wild rose species as the state flower of Iowa. Historians have identified two other wild roses that are frequently used as the Iowa state flower. These roses are similar in appearance, but they have different botanical names and distinct features. The wild roses that are considered alternates for the wild prairies rose as the state flower of Iowa are the Rosa blanda and Rosa carolina.
The wild prairie rose is a shrub that grows to a height of 3 feet (0.9 meter). It is commonly found in Iowa's prairies, meadows and woods. This rose has pink flowers that usually appear in June. It also produces small, round rose hips that normally appear during the summer.
Rosa blanda is a native species usually found in the northern region of Iowa. It also grows in Iowa's prairies, meadows and woods, but its common name is the meadow rose. This flower also is common in Iowa's main cities. The shrub on which it grows reaches a height of 4 feet (1.2 meters). This early contender for the state flower of Iowa has large pink flowers that bloom from late June through summer and red hips that are shaped like apples.
Rosa carolina is the third contender for the honor of being the state flower of Iowa. It is most frequently found in meadows and woods. With its pink flowers, Rosa carolina can easily be mistaken for its competition, Rosa blanda and Rosa arkansana. Home gardeners also cultivate this species as a lawn ornamental and for indoor bouquets.