Cistus laurifolius (Laurel Leaf Rock Rose)

Cistus laurifolius, commonly called Laurel leaf Rock Rose, is a tall upright evergreen shrub with dark green shiny leaves and clusters of pure white paper-like flowers with yellow centres. Each flower lasts only one day, but new ones bloom every day in succession for many weeks.

Cistus laurifolius is a hardy, drought-tolerant shrub, native to the Mediterranean basin and can be found at high altitudes up to 2000 meters (6500 feet).


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Cistus laurifolius height and width

BLOOM TIME

cistus laurifolius bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-20ºC / -4º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Laurel Leaf Rock Rose scientific name

  • Botanical name: Cistus laurifolius (SIS-tus law-ree-FOH-lee-us))
  • Family: Cistaceae (SIS-TAY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Laurel leaf Rock Rose, Laurel leaf cistus
NameMeaning
CistusComes from the Greek word “kisthos”, meaning box, basket. Related to the shape of its fruits.
laurifoliusThe Latin name meaning “ Laurel-like leaves” (lauri = laurel, folius = leaf).

How to identify Cistus laurifolius

Cistus laurifolius shrub (Laurel-leaf Rockrose)

Shrub

Cistus laurifolius is a tall, multibranched, upright, evergreen shrub. It is quite a dense shrub due to its multiple branches.

The stiff branches hold dark green leathery leaves and papery pure white flowers with yellow centres.

As the plant ages, it becomes less leafy at the base, revealing the old branches with reddish bark that can be easily removed in strips, similar to the Arbutus unedo bark.

It usually reaches 2m (6.5 ft) or more in height after 5 to 10 years. The average width is around 1 to 1.25 m (3.2 to 4 ft).

Cistus laurifolius stem (Laurel-leaf Rockrose)

Stem

The young stems are red, sticky and aromatic. The older branches have reddish bark.

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 laurifolius leaf (Laurel-leaf Rockrose)

Leaf

The leaves are dark-green shiny on top and grey-woolly underneath. Looking very similar to the bay laurel leaf, hence the name “Laurel-leaf Rockrose”. 

They have an ovate-lanceolate shape with three veins and are larger than the other species, ranging between 40-90 mm (1.5 – 3.5 in) long.

Cistus laurifolius flower (Laurel-leaf Rockrose)

Flower

The pure white 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. Each white petal has a yellow spot at its base.

The flower size is about 5 to 6 cm (1.9 to 2.6 in).  Each petal is around 20 to 30mm (0.8 to 0.18 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 Laurel Leaf Rock Rose

How to identify Cistus laurifolius (Laurel Leaf Rock Rose) - Drought tolerant plant

Common Hybrids derived from Cistus laurifolius

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 laurifolius are:

XCistus laurifolius
Cistus x canescens (triple hybrid)Cistus x argenteus
Cistus parviflorusCistus x pagei
Cistus monspeliensisCistus × ledon
Cistus ladaniferCistus x cyprius
Cistus salvifoliusCistus x dubius

Cistus laurifolius Usage

Ornamental

Laurel leaf Rockrose is a very popular ornamental plant due to its pure white and delicate flowers contrasting with its hard dark green leaves.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. In rock or gravel gardens. Due to its form and height, it is also suitable as a hedge plant.

They are particularly interesting for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.

On hot days it releases a pleasant incense-like perfume, which makes it a good choice for aromatic gardens.

Medicinal

Cistus laurifolius was used in traditional medicine in some Mediterranean countries, and furthermore, studies have demonstrated its antimicrobial activity.

Biodiversity

Cistus laurifolius is very attractive to bees and other insects, enriching the biodiversity in your garden.

How to plant and care for Cistus laurifolius

Cistus laurifolius is native to the Mediterranean basin, therefore, adapted to hot, dry summers and cool, moist winters. It is often found at high mountain elevations up to 2000m (6500ft). Being the hardiest species of the Cistus genus it can tolerate temperatures down to -20ºC  (-4ºF) as long as the soil is sufficiently dry.

Once established, it is very hardy. However, during the first year or two, it will need winter protection. You should cover the root area with mulch to protect the roots from severe frosts and very low temperatures. 

Cistus laurifolius likes poor, well-drained, stony or sandy soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline, but prefers acidic soils. Actually, it is a good indicator of acidic soils where it grows spontaneously in the wild.

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 laurifolius

Cistus laurifolius is a very 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 
  • 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. 

As the plant ages, it can be attacked by pests and diseases, so you may need to discard it.

How to prune Cistus laurifolius

Like other Cistus species, Cistus laurifolius 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.

If you want a more bushy plant, you can lightly prune it after the flowering months.

How to propagate Cistus laurifolius

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

Internet

Article from Useful Temperate Plants database

Article from JardineriaOn

Article from PlantNet

Article from Pedpiniere Filipi

Books

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