Cistus monspeliensis (Montpellier Rock Rose)

Cistus monspeliensis, also commonly called Montpellier Rockrose or Narrow-leaved Rockrose, is a bushy, rounded evergreen shrub with rough, narrow, intense-green leaves and clusters of papery white flowers with yellow centres. Each flower will bloom and fall within one day, but new ones will appear every day for many weeks.

Cistus monspeliensis  is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Western Mediterranean basin, specifically to southern Europe and North Africa


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Cistus monspeliensis height and width

BLOOM TIME

cistus monspeliensis bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Montpellier rock rose scientific name

  • Botanical name: Cistus monspeliensis (SIS-tus mon-spe-le-EN-sis)
  • Family: Cistaceae (SIS-TAY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Montpellier Rockrose, Narrow-leaved Rockrose
NameMeaning
CistusComes from the Greek word “kisthos”, meaning box, basket. Related to the shape of its fruits.
monspeliensisReferring to the French city Montpellier where this species was first described.

How to identify Cistus monspeliensis 

Cistus monspeliensis shrub (Montpellier Rockrose)

Shrub

Cistus monspeliensis is a medium-sized, evergreen shrub with erect, multiple divided branches that gives it a bushy, rounded form. The shrub is hairy and slightly sticky due to the release of ladanum (gum resin).

It has narrow mid-green leaves with a wrinkled surface and clusters of white flowers on each stem.

It usually reaches 1 to 1.25 m (3.2 to 4 ft) in height and 80cm to 1m (2.6 to 3.2 ft) in width. However, it can sometimes grow 2m (6.5 ft) tall.

In prolonged drought, the shrub may be partially deciduous in late summer.

Cistus monspeliensis stem (Montpellier Rockrose)

Stem

The stems are reddish-brown and have long white hairs. They are very aromatic and sticky, especially in hot weather.

The leaves grow opposite at each node along the stem, which is terminated by an inflorescence of flowers arranged in cymes of 2 to 8 flowers.

At the end of the summer, the leaves may become a dark maroon colour due to the prolonged heat and drought. This is why it is called “dark-leaved rockrose” in some countries.

Cistus monspeliensis leaf (Montpellier Rockrose)

Leaf

The leaves are mid-green on top and greyish-green underneath. They are hairy, sticky and have a wrinkled surface. 

Their shape is linear to lanceolate and scarcely tapered at the base. 

They are stalkless (sessile) and have 3 prominent veins, which can be easily seen on the underside.

The common name “Narrow-leaved Rockrose” suggests that the leaves are very narrow. The size ranges from 15 to 45 mm (0.6 to 1.7 in) long and 3 to 12mm (0.25 to 0.5 in) wide.

The leaves have seasonal dimorphism, meaning they have different characteristics in the summer and winter. The “winter leaves” are wide and thin, while the “summer leaves” are narrow and thick. These changes are an adaptation of the plant to very different weather conditions during the winter and the summer.

Cistus monspeliensis flower (Montpellier Rockrose)

Flower

The flowers are small, white and delicate, arranged in cymes of 2 to 8 flowers along a stalk. In the case of the Cistus monspeliensis, all the flowers emerge on the same side of the stalk.

Each flower has 5 petals that are heart-shaped and look like crumpled paper. The calyx has 5 triangular hairy sepals of different sizes, 3 smaller inner and 2 larger outer.  At the centre are numerous orange stamens and one pistil. At the base of each petal is a yellow spot.

The size of the flower is about 3 cm (1.2 in).  Each petal is around 9 to 14mm (0.3 to 0.5 in).

The flowers usually bloom in spring and summer, and each flower lasts only for some hours. But new flowers bloom every day for some weeks.

Cistus albidus (White-leaved Rockrose) fruit and seeds

Fruit

The fruit is a small ovoid hairy capsule. 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 tetrahedron-shaped and have a hard, water-impermeable brown coating.


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    Common Hybrids derived from Cistus monspeliensis

    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 monspeliensis are:

    XCistus monspeliensis
    Cistus laurifoliusCistus × ledon
    Cistus salviifoliusCistus x florentinus
    Cistus populifoliusCistus x nigricans
    Cistus ladaniferCistus x stenophyllus

    Cistus monspeliensis Usage

    Ornamental

    The Montpellier Rockrose is used as an ornamental plant due to its interesting look. The delicate white papery flowers contrast with the narrow and thick wrinkled leaves.

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

    Medicinal

    Cistus monspeliensis has long been used in traditional medicine. 

    Research has also demonstrated several medicinal properties of this Cistus species: antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal. 

    Biodiversity

    The Cistus monspeliensis flowers are rich in nectar and pollen, which attracts bees and many other beneficial insect pollinators,  enriching the biodiversity in your garden.

    Reforestation of dry regions

    Cistus monspeliensis is a very robust plant surviving prolonged heat and droughts.  It can also quickly regenerate after wildfires which makes it interesting for reforestation after forest fires that burn all the existing vegetation.

    During the growth period, the plant drops its seeds in the soil, which can remain dormant for long periods. However, the fire’s intense heat causes the seed coat to crack, and the surviving seeds germinate shortly after the fire.

    Cistus monspeliensis habitat

    This rockrose can be found in acidic, limestone, siliceous and calcareous soils. It can thrive at varying altitudes from sea level up to 1200m (3900 ft). They are common in scrublands after wildfires and can also be seen under oak or pine tree forests.

    Cistus monspeliensis” by fausto is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

    How to plant and care for Cistus monspeliensis

    Cistus monspeliensis is native to the Mediterranean basin, therefore, adapted to hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters. Although it can tolerate temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF) it is not very resistant to frost.

    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 monspeliensis likes poor, well-drained, light sandy soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from acidic to mildly alkaline.

    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 monspeliensis

    Cistus monspeliensis is a drought-tolerant plant and does not like humid soils, which may cause fungal diseases. 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. 

    How to prune Cistus monspeliensis

    Similar to other Cistus species, Cistus monspeliensis does not usually need any pruning. 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 monspeliensis

    Propagation by seed

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

    The seeds are water-impermeable and can’t absorb water to germinate unless they have been first cracked open by heat. That is why they 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 during 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.

    Propagation by layering

    Cistus plants can also be propagated by layering the branches in spring.

    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 Jardin-sec

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