Cistus creticus (Cretan Rock Rose)

Cistus creticus, commonly called Cretan rock rose, or Pink rock rose, is a bushy, rounded evergreen shrub with light green wavey margined leaves and terminal clusters of purple-pink flowers with a crumpled tissue paper appearance.

Although the flowers only last one day, new ones bloom every morning during spring and summer.

Cistus creticus is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the eastern Mediterranean basin, specifically the Greek Islands, namely Crete, where its name Cretan Rockrose derives from.

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Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Cistus creticus height and width

BLOOM TIME

cistus creticus bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-8ºC / 17º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Cretan Rock Rose scientific name

  • Botanical name: Cistus creticus  (SIS-tus KRE-tik-us)
  • Family: Cistaceae (SIS-TAY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Cretan rock rose, Pink rock rose
NameMeaning
CistusComes from the Greek word “kisthos”, meaning box, basket. Related to the shape of its fruits.
creticusRefers to the Greek island Crete, where this plant originates from.

How to identify Cistus creticus

Cistus Creticus shrub (Cretan Rockrose, pink rockrose)

Shrub

Cistus creticus is a much-branched, compact rounded, evergreen shrub with an erect yet somewhat spreading form.

The branches are woody and reddish-brown, the leaves green to greyish-green, and the flowers purple-pink.

There is an interesting contrast between the tough leaves and the fragile flowers.

It can reach 0.8 to 1 m (2.6 to 3.2 ft) in height and width after 2 to 5 years. 

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cistus creticus stem (cretan rockrose, pink rockrose))

Stem

The stems are woody at the base and have a reddish-brown colour. The young branches are hairy and have opposite leaves at each node, which are also hairy.

The stem and leaves have a sticky substance called labdanum, an intensely fragrant resin that adheres easily to hands and clothes.

The flowers appear in clusters at the ends of the stems.

cistus creticus leaf (cretan rockrose, pink rockrose))

Leaf

The rough small leaves are green to greyish-green and densely covered with short hairs on both sides. They have undulating edges with a thin red stripe on the margin.

The leaves exude a sticky resin substance called labdanum, which adheres to hands and clothes. This balsamic resin is incredibly fragrant on hot sunny days.

They have short stalks 3-10 mm (0.1 – 0.4 in). The leaf’s shape is oval to elliptical, 1.5 to 4.5 cm (0.8 to 2.0 in) long.

cistus creticus flower (cretan rockrose, pink rockrose))

Flower

The purple-pink flowers are very showy and delicate, appearing in terminal clusters of one to seven individual flowers.

Each flower has 5 petals with a crumpled tissue paper appearance and 5 long, ovate sepals with sharp tips. At the centre are numerous orange stamens and one pistil. The purple-pink colour of each petal fades into a yellow stain at the base.

The flower has a long stalk (0.7 – 3 cm/ 0.3-1.2 in). The petals are 1.7 to 2 cm (0.6 to 0.8 in).

The flowers usually bloom in spring and summer but are very short-lived, lasting only a few hours. They open early in the morning, and the petals fall shortly after midday. But new flowers bloom every day for many weeks.

Cistus albidus (White-leaved Rockrose) fruit and seeds

Fruit

The fruit is an ovoid hairy capsule inserted in the calyx. It opens into 5 valves containing a large number of seeds.

The fruit size is 0.7 to 1 cm (0.3 to 0.4 in).

The seeds are tiny, 1 to 1.2 mm (0.04 to 0.05 in), and have a hard, water-impermeable brown coating.


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    Cistus creticus Usage

    Ornamental

    Cistus creticus is a beautiful ornamental plant with many showy purple-pink flowers with a crumpled tissue paper appearance.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups with other types of cistus. In beds, borders or containers. In rock or gravel gardens. Planted in pots. They are particularly interesting for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.

    Culinary

    The leaves can be used as herbal tea, and have been used for centuries in Crete.

    The resin produced from the leaves and stems is used for food flavouring, chewing gum etc.

    Cosmetics

    The resin and essential oils obtained from the leaves and stems is used in cosmetic products such as soaps, perfumes and creams.  

    It has also been used for centuries as religious incense.   

    Medicinal

    Cistus creticus has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times. The Ladanum that exudes from the hairs of the stems and leaves and herbal infusions from leaves have been used to treat skin diseases, hair loss and diarrhoea.  Today herbal infusions are used for respiratory disorders and skin irritations. 

    Studies have presented several pharmacological activities like antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, anticancer, cardiovascular protection or skin protection.

    Cultural

    Legend says that the gods on Mount Olympus used Cistus creticus to heal Greek warriors and that the goddesses admired the flower’s beauty. It has long been storied as both beautiful and healing. It is also one of the ingredients of the Holy Anointing Oil.

    Biodiversity

    Cistus creticus is a melliferous flower with lots of pollen that attracts bees and numerous other insects, enriching the biodiversity in your garden.

    Other Uses

    The roots of Cistus shrubs have the ability to create a mycorrhizal relation with truffle mushroom fungi. In this relationship, the truffles provide nutrients to the Cistus in exchange for carbohydrates.

    Several studies are analysing their possible usage as host plants for truffle cultivation. The advantage is that Cistus shrubs are much smaller than traditional hosts such as oaks and pines and could therefore lead to higher production for the same area.

    How to harvest Cistus creticus’ labdanum

    Since remote times the labdanum, a brownish sticky sweet-scented resin covering leaves and young stems, has been harvested for cosmetic and medicinal uses.

    The Greek historian Herodotus documented two methods of harvesting as early as 2500 years ago.

    One of the methods is more unusual. Since ancient Greece, goats would roam the rocky hillsides and graze on the Cistus creticus shrubs. As they grazed the sticky resin would get stuck on their beards and coats. The owners would then comb the goats to pull out the precious resin.

    The other method was to use a bow-shaped wooden tool with strips of leather called a ladanisterion. This tool was used to comb the shrubs to collect the resin, which was then scraped off the leather strips. This method is still used in some places, for example, at Cretan Labdanum.

    Today, the most common method is to manually harvest the stems with sickles, then gather them into bundles and take them to factories for the resin to be extracted.

    How to plant and care for Cistus creticus

    Usually, they are not very hardy but can tolerate temperatures down to -8ºC (17.6ºF). 

    However, the plant will need winter protection during the first few years. You should cover the root area with mulch to protect the roots from severe frosts and very low temperatures. 

    Cistus creticus likes poor to moderately fertile, well-drained soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline but prefers alkaline.

    This shrub needs full sun to thrive and does not like to be watered. 

    Cistus creticus is a robust plant and usually does not have problems with pests and diseases.

    The best time to plant this shrub is at the beginning of spring for colder regions or the beginning of autumn for warmer regions.

    How to water Cistus creticus

    Cistus creticus is a drought-tolerant plant and does not like humid soils. Once established it no longer requires watering.

    During its evolution, it developed mechanisms for drought tolerance:

    • Dense hair in the branches and leaves to trap moisture 
    • The symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal root fungi provides water and nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates.

    During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young Rock rose every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering.

    When watering it, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow the roots to grow deeply. 

    To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the Rockrose (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching. 

    How to prune Cistus creticus

    Cistus creticus does not require any pruning. Actually, it does not like being pruned or having its shallow root system disturbed.

    But after flowering, you may lightly trim some tips of the stems to encourage a more compact and symmetrical form.

    How to propagate Cistus creticus

    Rock roses can be propagated by seed, but it is not easy. The easiest method of propagation is by cuttings.

    • Softwood cuttings Take these cuttings, from a non-flowering shoot, in early summer. They root easily in up to 4 weeks.
    • Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from late summer to late autumn. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter. 
    • Hardwood cuttings taken in late winter, just before new growth starts, will root easily.

    Other Cistus you may also like

    Sources

    Sources of information used for this article

    Internet

    Article from RHS site

    Article from Un Mondo Ecosostenibile

    Article from Useful Temperate Plants database

    Article from JSTOR Daily 

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