Rock Roses

Cistus pupureus
Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

Cistus is the name of a group of shrubs commonly called Rock Roses. The common name refers to the similarity of their flowers to wild roses and the preferred habitat of the plants: rocky and relatively poor soil. In dry, sunny locations most Rock Roses will thrive on neglect, making them a great choice for a sustainable garden as they require little to no supplemental water and require no soil amendments or fertilizer. The botanical name "Cistus" is taken from the Greek word "Kistos"; these are Mediterranean plants that have been in cultivation since the times of antiquity.
Despite their origin, Rock Roses are adaptable and can be used in many temperate climates too, as they are commonly found in home gardens of the Pacific NorthWest region of North America or in the British Isles. As more and more homeowners remove their thirsty lawns, they are increasingly popular in California. Colwynn Design has designed several gardens in Southern California that include Cistus, here are some species we like:

Orchid Rock Rose

Orchid Rock Rose (Cistus x purpureus)

This is a classic Mediterranean garden shrub, that has been used by garden designers since the 1700s. Plant in full sun and requires little to no irrigation - this is a truly tough-as-nails drought-tolerant plant that stays green year-round and can tolerate a lot of heat. A lot of drought-tolerant plants have oily leaves like this one and as it gets hotter, the plant becomes more and more fragrant.⁠

Cistus Mickie

Cistus 'Mickie' (Cistus x. hybridus 'Mickie")

This cistus has small white flowers and stunning variegated leaves. It grows as a low mounding groundcover and is very adaptable to dry hot conditions as well as cold wet winters. Nothing fazes this plant except lack of sun. Note that this is a slow grower, it is worth paying the extra for a large pot of this plant, despite the expense.⁠ An almost identical variety called "Little Miss sunshine" is also available.

Cistus ladanifer

Gum Rockrose (Cistus ladanifer)

The biggest flowers of any Cistus species, they are often 3-4 inches (5-8cm) wide.⁠ The common name refers to the gummy leaves that are sticky with a very fragrant resin. This resin is called labdanum and is the main ingredient used in making the scent of amber in perfumery. it is odour is variously described as amber, animalic, sweet, fruity, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or leathery.⁠ Has a more upright shape than most Cistus.

Cistus skanbergii

Pink Rockrose (Cistus x skanbergii)

This groundcover Rock Rose is a hybrid of Cistus monspeliensis and Cistus parviflorus. Unlike other popular hybrid garden plants, this one is a naturally occurring hybrid so it is considered native to the overlapping boundaries of the natural ranges of these two species in Greece and Sicily. This is an important distinction because human-engineered hybrid plants tend to be less robust than natural hybrids.⁠ This Rock Rose sports smaller flowers that are a slightly pink shade of white. This plant looks great spilling over a wall.

Tristam Bielecki

Tristam Bielecki

Garden Designer based in Los Angeles, California. Tristam specialises in planning drought tolerant and sustainable gardens with an emphasis on native plants.