Rose Rosette Virus: Flower Killer

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Rose rosette virus has been known in North America for decades, but it seems that it has become more common in our area over the last ten years.

Symptoms can vary but typically include elongated flexible shoots, a proliferation of shoots leading to a “witches-broom” appearance, excessive development of thorns, leaf deformation, retention of juvenile red coloration in shoots, and flower abnormalities. If you see the “thorniness”, then you can be confident you have rose rosette. Not all symptoms may be present in any given plant. 

Excessive thorns Excessive thorns of a rose infected with rose rosette disease

Image: Cyndi Lauderdale

Rose rosette is caused by a virus that is transmitted by the microscopic eriophyid mite. They lack wings but can be carried on air currents. 

There is no chemical control for plant viruses. Since viruses become systemic in their hosts, pruning is not effective. 

Removal of infected plants is the best solution. You should bag the rose foliage before digging, to reduce the chance that the mites will scatter on the wind and take the virus to nearby plants. Remove all of the roots so that the infected plant does not re-sprout. Also, remove any nearby weedy multiflora roses that may be serving as a host plant to mites and potentially the virus. It may be best not to plant rose bushes next to one another since the mites could easily move from plant to plant. 

Red shoot color of rose infected with rose rosette disease

Image: Cyndi Lauderdale

Rose rosette does not affect other kinds of plants. More encouraging is that some rose species are resistant, including the native Rosa setigera and Rosa carolina

The Wilson Extension Master Gardeners are leading a county effort to eradicate roses with rose rosette. To learn more about their program email or call 252-237-0113  

 For more information and to report occurrences in your community, visit

Cyndi Lauderdale

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