The History Behind the Rosa Rugosa “Beach Flowers” on Cape Cod

Many people flock to Cape Cod for its natural beauty and appeal, but one seemingly “natural” addition to the area isn’t originally from the region at all. The Rosa rugosa is a beach flower that now grows wild on Cape Cod.

But like many things, this “beach rose” actually originates from somewhere else. It’s said the flower may be pretty, but it’s really an invasive plant that was brought here from Asia.

According to the history books, it first came by cargo boat to the Outer Cape in the mid 1800s, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. The ship carrying the flower wrecked on Nauset Beach.

The plants, however, not only survived the wreck, but they actually thrived in their new home. Eventually the Rosa rugosa spread across the entire length of Outer Beach.

These days, you’ll find dense hedges of the beach rose lining roads and paths on Cape Cod. It’s easily distinguished by its pink or white flowers and its strong fragrance.

Unlike typical roses you might pick up at your local florist, the Rosa rugosa variety is better adept at surviving the sometimes harsh elements of the region. It actually flourishes in the sandy soil and the windy, cool conditions of Cape Cod.

Like traditional roses, these beach roses have a sweet fragrance and prickly stems. They’re not commonly used in arrangements, though.

Instead, this type of rose has some edible parts, and it’s sometimes used for tea. Some also turn the flower into jelly or add it to pastries and cookies. Others have been known to turn it into a type of syrup or even to add it to cocktails

Just make sure you have the right flower before you try any of these things. In the meantime, the next time you’re in the area, keep your eyes open for this beautiful addition to the Cape, even if it wasn’t exactly an original part of the region’s natural terrain.  

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