Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 37 comments

This is likely Rosa carolina but the fruit are distorted because of the Spiny rose gall wasp (Diplolepis bicolor).

At Illinois Beach State Park on June 9th I came across the unusual red things shown in today’s photograph. After I submitted the picture to the Illinois Native Plant Society, Rachel, who is the organization’s secretary, e-mailed me back to say that the plant is likely Rosa carolina and that the spiky red things are galls created by the spiny rose gall wasp, Diplolepis bicolor. Pretty strange, huh?

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2016 at 4:33 AM

37 Responses

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  1. Yup … pretty strange. Isn’t it nice to have quick access to folks-in-the-know?

    Pairodox Farm

    July 27, 2016 at 4:48 AM

    • “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” My desire is to get everything I photograph accounted for, but of course that has proved impossible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 5:06 AM

  2. Strange and pretty.


    July 27, 2016 at 5:17 AM

    • These galls reminded me of the weapon from the Middle Ages known as a morning star:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 5:26 AM

      • Since my favorite boat was named Morning Star, of course I had to follow the link. Goodness. By the time I finished the page, it was clear that the concept “arms race” has a long and storied history. I especially was taken with this: “The term holy water sprinkler is also used to describe a type of military flail, this being the name for the weapon in French (goupillon). It was (according to popular legend) the favored weapon of King John of Bohemia, who was blind, and used to simply lay about himself on all sides.” If only they had written that he “flailed about.”


        July 27, 2016 at 6:55 AM

        • Yes, I also expected to hear that he flailed about. Talked about missed opportunities. What wasn’t missed historically was a chance to refer to a weapon by using a religious term (holy water).

          As for arms races, I have no reason to doubt they’ve been around as long as people have. Think about that scene near the beginning of the movie 2001.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 27, 2016 at 8:33 AM

  3. Steven: It certainly has a beauty all its own. Speaking of Wasps – we have a six foot cedar fence across the back of our property. The top latch, my daughter found out, had a wasp’s nest, under the top cross-member, and when she opened the latch to step out onto our city walking path she was swarmed by about 12-to 15 wasps that had, in less than four days built a nest under the cross-memeber. She got stung a few times. We’ve since sprayed. We go through that gate all the time. There seems ro be an infestation of Wasps and Yellow Jackets in Illinois this year. Yellow Jackets in particular will build nests anywhere they can find an opening. ENOUGH!


    July 27, 2016 at 6:54 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s experience. That’s what happens when people and stinging insects occupy the same territory. Last year I had to spray the portico at the front of our house where several wasps’ nests had gotten established; they haven’t returned since then.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 8:38 AM

  4. Those galls look as well-protected as the plant itself. They remind me of the fruit of the chestnut tree, or the wild cucumber that lives in Steve G’s territory, or a multitude of other spiny thingies. What does surprise me is the vibrant color. Most galls I’ve seen have been gray, brown, or even black — all colors designed to disguise their presence. This one seems to be taunting predators, saying, “Here I am. Just try to get in.”


    July 27, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    • Like you, I have no experience with this kind of gall, so we don’t know how characteristic the red is that I photographed. Regarding someone else’s photograph, a commenter at BugGuide wrote that the galls produced by this wasp on that other species of rose aren’t normally so red but conjectured that the extra color came from the reddish stem of that plant. Might that be the case here too?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 9:39 AM

  5. Quite strange, I agree. But pretty.


    July 27, 2016 at 8:09 AM

  6. Admirable photo!

    Roland Theys

    July 27, 2016 at 9:35 AM

  7. I’m fairly certain these are a wild strawberry, and the spiky things are fruits. If you have doubts, compare the leaves to a domestic strawberry plant. I saw various different types of wild strawberry this summer in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Tennessee. Some make an edible fruit; others aren’t all that palatable.

    christina Mild

    July 27, 2016 at 11:24 AM

  8. 2nd comment from Christina Mild. Didn’t notice the prickles and woody stem on first look. My second venture into this plant’s identity is a Rubus sp., some type of wild berry, related to all the wild raspberry, blackberry, dewberry. If there are several Rubus species native to the area where you make the photo, you might narrow down the I.D. I really don’t think those red spiky things are galls; they’re probably some type of fruit.

    christina Mild

    July 27, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    • Thanks for your observations, Christina. My first thought, too, had been wild strawberries because those are known to grow in that area. The spikes on those red blobs, however, don’t seem to comport with anything that happens to a wild strawberry, and in your second comment you also backed away from a strawberry in favor of a Rubus.

      I know so little about such things that I seek the help of people who know more. The BugGuide link in my post shows a photograph that looks similar to mine and says they red things are spiny wasp galls. In searching just now I came across a photo on a different site that also claims to show wasp galls on Rosa carolina:


      That picture was taken less than an hour south of where I took mine.

      I wish there were a way for me to know who’s right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 11:59 AM

  9. That is pretty cool. I should have suspected galls, and I hadn’t realized that rose had such substantial thorns.


    July 27, 2016 at 12:09 PM

  10. They remind me of the Conkers that are the ‘fruit’ of the Horse Chestnut tree that we have in the UK – Aesculus hippocastanum.


    July 27, 2016 at 3:58 PM

    • There are cultivated horse-chestnut trees in the United States, too, so I know the kind of fruit you’re talking about. I see from searching the Internet that Aesculus hippocastanum originated in southeast Europe.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 27, 2016 at 4:31 PM

  11. That’s pretty awesome!! Fiercest looking gall I’ve ever seen, not sure I would like to meet its maker 😉

  12. […] photograph of strangely spiky galls at Illinois Beach State Park suddenly reminded me this morning of something spiky that’s […]

  13. At first glance I thought it was wild strawberries as the leaves looks like they are from the strawberry plant, but I wouldn’t eat those spikes! 🙂


    July 28, 2016 at 11:41 AM

  14. Very cool gall, now my second favorite after this wool sower which you have seen and we have discussed. And, of course, there is the gall that some folks have a lot of.

    Steve Gingold

    July 30, 2016 at 2:34 PM

    • Those wool sower galls are also unlike any I’d seen (as we discussed). I wonder if the two types of galls occur in close proximity anywhere.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 30, 2016 at 3:46 PM

  15. How interesting that they are galls. They look like the spiky fruit on a plant we have here. They may be strange, but they are still quite a pretty colour. Nice find, Steve! 🙂


    August 3, 2016 at 6:43 AM

    • It surprised me, too, to learn that the spiky things are galls. They’re so different from any of the galls that I’m familiar with in Texas. I have seen spiky fruits, though, from tropical countries. One that comes to mind is durian.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 3, 2016 at 7:20 AM

  16. They are great-looking galls. Do you suppose they are spiked to stop them being eaten by birds or other animals? In the UK we have gall wasps that provoke the Dog roses (Rosa canina) to produce red fuzzy-looking galls that are commonly known as Robin’s Pincushions.


    August 26, 2016 at 3:58 PM

    • I also wondered whether the spikiness offers any protection from being eaten but I haven’t turned up any evidence for that.

      Is the Robin you mentioned supposed to be Robin Hood, or the familiar bird, or some other being?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2016 at 5:12 PM

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