Cistus crispus (Curled Leaf Rock Rose)

Cistus crispus, commonly called Curled Leaf Rock Rose or Curly Pink Rock Rose, is a short wide-spreading cushion, evergreen shrub with grey-green leaves and clusters of pink flowers with a crumpled tissue paper appearance. Each flower lasts only one day, but new ones bloom every day in succession for many weeks.

Cistus crispus is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Western Mediterranean basin, specifically North Africa, Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. In Italy, it is considered an endangered species (research).


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

cistus crispus height and width

BLOOM TIME

cistus crispus blooming time

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT-TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Curled Leaf Rock Rose scientific name

  • Botanical name: Cistus crispus (SIS-tus KRIS-pus)
  • Family: Cistaceae (SIS-TAY-see-ee)
  • Common name:  Curled Leaf Rock Rose, Curly Pink Rock Rose
NameMeaning
CistusComes from the Greek word “kisthos”, meaning box, basket. Related to the shape of its fruits.
crispusThe Latin name for curly. Refers to the curly crisp margins of the leaves.

How to identify Cistus crispus

Cistus crispus shrub (Curled-leaf Rockrose. pink rockrose)

Shrub

Cistus crispus is a short and wide evergreen shrub. It has grey-green, curly, hairy leaves and clusters of pink flowers.

It usually reaches 30 to 40cm (1 to 1.3 ft) in height after 5 to 10 years. The width can range between  80cm a 1m  (2.6 to 3.2 ft).

Cistus crispus stem (Curled-leaved Rockrose)

Stem

The stems are reddish-brown and have long white hairs. They have opposite leaves at each node.

The flowers are arranged in cymes. The central stem produces a flower at its tip, followed by the flowers on the ends of subsequent lateral stems.

Cistus crispus leaf front and back view (Curled-leaved Rockrose)

Leaf

The leaves are grey-green, rough, and hairy with distinct undulated margins, hence the name “crispus”. They are stalkless (sessile) and have three prominent veins. 

They are oblong-elliptic, 12-35 mm (0.5 – 1.4 in) long, and 4-15 mm (0.1-0.6 in) wide.

Cistus crispus flower (Curled-leaved Rockrose)

Flower

The bright pink flowers are very showy and delicate, appearing in terminal clusters with short stalks. They are arranged in few-flowered cymes.

Each flower has 5 petals with a crumpled tissue paper appearance. They have 5 hairy sepals of different sizes, 3 smaller inner and 2 larger outer.  At the centre are numerous orange stamens and one pistil. The bright pink colour of each petal fades into a darker pink stain at the base.

The flower size is about 3 to 4 cm (1.2 to 1.6).  Each petal is around 12 to 20mm (0.5 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 in the evening. 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 5 to 6 mm (0.19 to 0.23 in).

The seeds are very small and have a hard, water-impermeable brown coating.

Quick tips to identify Curled Leaf Rock Rose

How to identify Cistus crispus (Curled Leaf Rock Rose) - Drought tolerant plant

Common Hybrids derived from Cistus crispus

The different species from the Cistus genus can easily cross-pollinate between themselves, leading to many different hybrids. 

Some of the most common hybrids derived from Cistus crispus are:

XCistus Crispus
Cistus albidusCistus x incanus
Cistus creticusCistus x crispatus
Cistus heterophyllusCistus × ultraviolaceus

Cistus crispus Usage

Ornamental

Curled-leaf Rockrose is a popular ornamental plant due to its beautiful and delicate flowers contrasting with its rough curly leaves.

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

Medicinal

Cistus crispus leaves are known to have several medicinal properties. For instance, as an antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal.

Biodiversity

Cistus crispus is a melliferous flower with bright colour and lots of pollen. This attracts bees, butterflies, and many other insects,  enriching the biodiversity in your garden.

How to plant and care for Cistus crispus

Cistus crispus is native to the Mediterranean basin, therefore, adapted to hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters. It can tolerate temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF) if the soil is sufficiently dry.

However, when the plant is not yet established, it 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 crispus likes poor, well-drained, light sandy soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from acid to mildly alkaline, but prefers acidic soils.

It prefers full sun to thrive but can also handle semi-shade. In the wild, it can be seen under pine and oak forests. 

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 crispus

Cistus crispus 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 Rockrose 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 crispus

Like other Cistus species, Cistus crispus does not require any pruning. Actually, it does not like being pruned or having its roots disturbed, especially as it ages. 

So any pruning should be limited to removing dead or damaged stems at the beginning of spring.

How to propagate Cistus crispus

Propagation by seed

Rockroses can be propagated by seed, but it is not easy. 

Seeds in the wild germinate easily after wildfires, so it may be useful to give them a heat treatment to facilitate their germination. 

The seeds usually germinate within 1 to 4 weeks at around 20ºC (68ºF).

Keep them in a greenhouse during the first winter and then plant them in their final position the following spring.

Propagation by cuttings

The easiest method of propagation is by cuttings.

Softwood cuttings Take these cuttings, 8cm long with a heel or at a node, from a non-flowering shoot, in early summer. Roots will form in up to 4 weeks.

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from late summer to late autumn. Take an 8cm cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within 4 weeks. 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. Cuttings can also be taken in mid-autumn from the current year’s growth. Take a cutting 8 to 12 cm long with a heel or at a node.

Since cistus plants do not like root disturbance, especially as they get old, they should be planted in their final positions while still small.

Other Cistus you may also like

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Article from Jardinagemem

Article from Candide

Article from Pepiniere Filipi

Books

I researched this plant in the following books, which I highly recommend you read. They won´t disappoint you!

By clicking on the book images, you’ll be transported to the Amazon website. And here’s a little secret: when you purchase through these links, you support my work without any additional cost, enabling me to continue creating interesting content for you!

cover of Field  Guidebook
cover of RHS Propagation bookcover of RHS Propagation book