Flowering evergreen shrubs play a vital part in any garden. They provide structure through the winter months and flowers in our spring and summer times. My own garden is full of shrubs that earn their place in the garden, having appeal throughout the entire year. My Cistus varieties, also known as rockroses, are among the few bushy evergreen shrubs I have planted in all areas of my garden.
Nothing says “summer” to me more than their simple, sunny, bright-colored blooms. Their fuzzy foliage, lovely rounded forms and rapid growth habit are just some of the reasons why I’ve fallen deeply for these easy-to grow, Mediterranean beauties.
Rockroses are native to the Canary Islands as well as countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. They were first introduced to western Europe back in the 1860’s. The flowers of these fragrant sun-lovers are so attractive, it was only a matter of time before an extensive range of hybrid cultivars were bred.
All in all, there are now around 20 or so Cistus species, each with numerous cultivars. These new hybrids provide variants on flower shape, color, leaf shape and growing habit.
These popular woody shrubs are a great addition to any sunny border or shrub bed. Furthermore, they show a remarkable tolerance for atmospheric pollution, poor soils, and drought. However, Cistus varieties aren’t just confined to warm climates. A number of well-recognized and frost-hardy cultivars have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
The key to their survival starts with a free-draining planting soil, a sheltered position and a full-on sunshine bed. They really are that easy to please.
My Top Cistus Species & Cultivars
Let us look at some of the most floriferous of the Cistus species, with their unique flower formations and velvety-soft foliage.
1. Cistus x laurifolius
This species is reported as one of only three species to survive the hardest frosts seen at Kew’s Royal Botanical Gardens in London in 1895. Whilst other Cistus varieties were eliminated by the fierce cold, the Cistus x laurifolius lived to see another sunrise. Subsequently, it’s regarded as the toughes rockrose species in cultivation, along with two other natural hybrids: Cistus x corbariensis and the 19th Century introduction Cistus x loretii.
This hardy shrub is commonly called the “Laurel-leaved Cistus”, and grows to a good 2.5 metres in both height and spread. It has a vigorous growth habit and an open, bushy and branching form. Its evergreen, ovate leaves are a dull grey-green and slightly sticky to the touch.
Cistus x laurifolius’ bowl-shaped flowers are pure white with yellow stamens, each up to 8 cm wide and produced in succession with each flower only lasting a day. As with all Cistus, this is a highly drought-tolerant plant that’s happy in poor, well-draining soils. Frost hardy in zones 7–10.
2. Cistus x hybridus
A quick-growing Cistus species that forms a broad hummock of soft felted, wavy green leaves and reaches a height of 90 cm. Flowers are produced early in the season: numerous crimson-buds open to pure white blooms in succession over several weeks.
Central flower stamens are golden yellow, resulting in very striking, though short-lived blooms. This is a suitable species for planting in windy, seaside gardens with neutral or shallow chalk soils. Frost hardy in zones 7–10.
If you’re interested in finding variegated Cistus, take a look at Cistus x hybridus “Gold Prize” and “Mickie”. Both of these have a similar growing form and flowers to that above, but with wonderfully variegated yellow and green, felt-textured leaves.
3. Cistus x argenteus “Silver Pink”
This pale pink Cistus cultivar has slender glaucous, ovate leaves with a bushy but open habit. It commonly forms a neat mound up to 75 cm across. Around June, mountains of delicate, pale silver-pink flowers are borne every day, flowering in succession until the end of July.
Each flower reaches 6 cm across, fading to almost white in the center. Like other Cistus varieties, it appreciates good drainage, poor soils and a full-sun site. Frost hardy in zones 8 – 10.
4. Cistus x purpureus “Brilliancy”
With its bushy, rounded form and fragrant, felted narrow green leaves, this pink-flowering Cistus is popular with gardeners and enthusiasts alike. It’s a great choice for planting in light, dry soils and is an excellent seaside plant.
“Brilliancy” has delicate paper-thin, dusky-pink flowers with a vivid, deep-red blotch in the center of each petal. Numerous flower buds produce cup-shaped, short lived blooms in succession throughout early to mid summer. Young foliage is resinous and fragrant, while older leaves take on a shade of dark grey-green. This cultivar will reach a height of up to 1.2 meters. In addition, it’s frost hardy in zones 8–10.
5. Cistus x pulverulentus “Sunset”
This shocking pink hybrid cultivar is a cross between Cistus albidus and Cistus crispus. As a result we have a low-growing shrub with a bushy habit and mid-green, wavy, textured leaves. With a spread of 2.5 metres and a height of up to a meter, this makes it the perfect ground cover plant for a hot and sunny bed.
Its rich, cup-shaped magenta blooms open from late spring, and flower in succession until the end of summer. “Sunset’s” growth habit is vigorous, producing loads of new growth. In fact, its striking ornamental blooms were worthy of the prestigious R.H.S. Garden Award of Merit.
It’s a fantastic choice for any garden, and looks especially good planted with denim-blue flowering perennials. Suitable for zones 8–10.
6. Cistus x albidus “Snow Fire”
This medium-sized evergreen shrub comfortably grows to 1.6 meters in both height and spread. It has typical Cistus wavy, felt-leaved foliage. Paper-thin blooms are produced from May through till August, each with a deep-maroon blotch and bright yellow stamens.
These striking, succeeding blooms contrast against grey-green foliage. As a result, this is a relatively hardy, substantial shrub for year-round garden interest. Suitable for planting in zones 7–8.
7. Cistus x decumbers
Here we have another hybrid cultivar that’s crossed between Cistus x hirsutuas and Cistus ladanifer. The result is a thick-set evergreen shrub that forms a ball-shaped specimen in maturity. Its growth habit is vigorous, with foliage consisting of dark green, elongated leaves.
Thin and crumpled-looking, maroon- blotched, pure-white flowers top the foliage from mid June/July through until late August. This is a reliable choice for banked areas of poor soil, dry soil and sunny flower beds. Expect it to grow to 60 cm and spread close to a meter. Frost hardy to zone 8a.
How to Grow your Cistus Plant
Cistus grow best in well-draining, dry soil. Their native homelands typically have nutrient-poor, shallow, dry soils with a high sand percentage. When planting Cistus varieties into your gardens, always add a good amount of sharp sand and grit into your planting soil. This will help water freely drain away from their roots, which is especially necessary in wintertime.
They’re happy to grow in neutral and slightly acidic soils, but aren’t too keen on limey, chalk soils. These can turn their foliage yellow in color.
Cistus varieties are perfect shrubs for any sunny flower bed, border or bank so long as sufficient shelter is given from harsh winds and driving rain. Neither of these weather systems are too kind to the Cistus genera, battering their foliage and spoiling their beautiful flowers.
Although originally from the warm Mediterranean countries, there are now many very hardy species that thrive in cooler climates, some of which I have listed above. The key to successful planting is choosing the right plant species for your site. The Cistus genera are an easy-care choice when given the right soil type, shelter and growing environment for them thrive.
Life span of Cistus Plants
Cistus generally only last a few years. As plants, rockroses use vast amounts of energy through their rapid growth, profuse flowering and seed production. All these factors lead to a relatively short life span. On the other hand, they’re some of the most productive evergreen shrubs, bringing a touch of sunshine to your garden and a truly remarkable amount of flowers, making them invaluable to every sunny site.
Cistus are members of the Cistaceae plant family
The Cistaceae plant family consists of 8 genera and 180 species. Five of these species are native to areas of the Mediterranean, these being Cistus, Fumara, Halimium, Helianthemum and Tuberaria.
Medicinal Properties of the Cistus Plant
The foliage on all Cistus plants has a unique fragrance and stickiness caused by resin within the leaves and stems. This foliage is commonly used in herbal tea infusions in traditional Mediterranean folk medicine. This is mainly to relieve digestive problems and colds.
Caring for your Cistus Plant
Once planted water your Cistus plants regularly until they become established. Once new growth appears your Cistus will have settled in and require less frequent watering. As a native Mediterranean genus, Cistus are proficient at saving water and used to quite dry soils. Only water when your soil is very dry.
As a plant family, Cistus shrubs don’t need to be fed at any time throughout the year.
Cistus shrubs are easy maintenance, with limited pruning. Once flowered, lightly trim your plants, pinching back new growth to create a bushier shrub. Do not cut back to old wood.
Plant Problems, Pests and Diseases
These floriferous, easy-care evergreen shrubs are not susceptible to any particular growing problems or pests and diseases. The resin omitted from Cistus’ foliage tends to repel most pests, which for a gardener is always good news!
Problems can be overcome by correct planning and planting. Cistus plants will thrive when planted in well-draining, sandy soil with sufficient shelter and sun.
Cistus shrubs are one of the easiest to propagate from cuttings in the summer months. They will readily take root, enjoying lightly moistened soil and a warm environment.