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How to identify pink mosaic virus (and what to do about it)

How to identify pink mosaic virus (and what to do about it)

When I first heard the term “rose mosaic”, I thought it was a good thing. It looked cute, like an artistic way of displaying especially beautiful flowers or something. Boy, did I find out I was wrong.

The mosaic of roses sucks. It causes some interesting patterns in the leaves and flower petals of the Rosa species, but it also prevents these plants from blooming and may even contribute to their demise. Oh, and there is no cure.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

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Then yes. It’s not a good thing.

Do not panic. You are not completely at the mercy of this widespread viral disease. We set you up so you know what to look for and what to do if this problem arises.

Here’s what we’ll talk about next:

A little knowledge can go a long way in limiting the damage that diseases can do to your garden. With that in mind, let’s dig deeper.

Table of Contents:

What is rose mosaic virus?

What we call mosaic roses are actually several viral diseases.

Roses can be infected with apple mosaic virus (ApMV), Arabis mosaic virus (ArMV), and Prunus necrotic spot virus (PNRSV). Collectively, we call them the Rose Mosaic Virus Complex (RMVc).

It doesn’t matter which virus is causing the problem or if all three attacked your plant at the same time. The symptoms are similar and the treatment is the same, so don’t get stuck figuring out which is which.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

This is one of the most common rose diseases in North America, so don’t panic if you find it in your garden. It happens to all of us at some point.


Sometimes RMVc is as obvious as a big neon sign showing “mosaic virus ahead.” And sometimes it is much more difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms are leaves and foliage mottled with yellow circles, lines, zigzags, or spots. Sometimes you’ll even see wavy yellow lines, which look a lot like some sort of insect damage.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

You may also see filigree, which is a faint yellow swirl, or oak leaf pattern, similar in shape to the leaves on those famous trees. Flower petals can also be mottled.

You can distinguish viral illness from other illnesses that cause similar symptoms in several ways.

Symptoms usually appear in the spring, although they can sometimes appear in the fall. Affected growth is often covered with new foliage as the season progresses.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

Evidence of infection usually occurs only in one section of the plant, although the virus is systemic, meaning it will be present throughout the tree.

In addition to the unusual yellow pattern, the shrub may show stunted growth, may have little or no flowering, and may be more susceptible to frost damage, with dead stems or brown foliage after a frost.

Some plants may die completely after a particularly cold winter.

How does RMVc work?

Fortunately, this disease does not spread on tools and is not transmitted by insects.

It turns over when breeders take grafts, cuttings or shoots from infected plants. The bad news is that symptoms may not show up for years and often don’t show up until a rose is planted in the garden.

This means breeders could use an infected potted plant for a breeding program without even knowing it.

Tests are available to help determine if a plant carries the disease, but home breeders and smaller companies don’t necessarily have the luxury of checking every new creation, and some larger breeders don’t go out of their way.

The virus can be spread through pollen to other species, but this does not appear to be the case for roses. We know that it does not spread from plant to plant in a garden.

how to treat it

There is no effective cure or treatment for RSVc. It can get rid of the ugly parts, but it won’t reduce the infection. This makes the infected plant prettier for the time being, until new symptoms develop elsewhere.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

If a diseased plant you’re growing is too weak, doesn’t flower well, or is constantly damaged by frost, it’s probably best to pull it out and buy a new plant.

The good news is that you can buy certified disease-free plants. Just look at the label. Test growers take pride in displaying their safe practices, so they’ll be sure to include that information on the label.

The mosaic of roses is not pretty.

It sucks when your favorite plant has RMVc.

Without care, it means that you may have to say goodbye to a beloved bush. Worse yet, you won’t even be able to take a cutting to try and reproduce a beloved plant because this will only spread disease.

But you may be able to live with that, and when you buy plants in the future, just make sure they’re certified RMVc-free.

Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

Are you dealing with this disease in your garden? What symptoms do you see in your plants? Let us know in the comments.

We hope this guide will point you in the right direction to improve your garden. If so, you might be interested in some of our other rose growing guides, such as:

Photo by Kristine Lofgren © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

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