Cistus salviifolius (Sage Leaf Rock Rose)

Cistus salviifolius, commonly called Sage Leaf Rock Rose, is a bushy, upright to spreading evergreen shrub with green, oval, wrinkled leaves and delicate white flowers with yellow centres. Each flower will last only for one day, but new ones will successively bloom every day for many weeks.

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



Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Cistus salviifolius height and width

BLOOM TIME

cistus salviifolius bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Sage leaf rock rose scientific name

  • Botanical name: Cistus salviifolius (SIS-tus sal-vee-eye-FOH-lee-us)
  • Family: Cistaceae (SIS-TAY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Sage Leaf Rockrose
NameMeaning
CistusComes from the Greek word “kisthos”, meaning box, basket. Related to the shape of its fruits.
salviifolius The Latin name meaning “Sage-like leaves” (salvia = sage, folius = leaf).

How to identify Cistus salviifolius

Cistus salviifolius shrub (Sage Leaf Rockrose)

Shrub

Cistus salviifolius is a bushy evergreen shrub with branches that can vary from upright to spreading form.

It has ovate green leaves with a wrinkled surface and abounds with lots of white flowers.

The shrub usually reaches 80cm to 1m (2.6 to 3.2 ft) in height and 1m ( 3.2 ft) or more in width.

Cistus salviifolius stem (Sage Leaf Rockrose)

Stem

The stems are reddish-brown and smooth but develop grooves when they get older.

The leaves grow opposite at each node, and the flower stalk emerges from the leaf axil. The inflorescence is composed of solitary flowers or a group of 2 to 3 flowers.

Cistus salviifolius leaf (Sage Leaf Rockrose)

Leaf

The leaves are mid-green, wrinkled and hairy on both surfaces. They feel coarse when touched.

Their shape is oval-elliptic with a rounded base. Similar to sage leaves, hence the common name “Sage Leaf Rockrose.”

The size ranges from 1 to 4 cm (0.4 to 1.6 in) long and 0.5 to 2cm (0.2 to 0.8 in) wide.

After prolonged drought and heat, the leaves will darken almost brown.

Cistus salviifolius flower (Sage Leaf Rockrose)

Flower

The flowers are large, white, borne solitary or in clusters of 2 to 4, on a long stalk coming from the leaf axil.

Each flower has 5 petals which, unlike other cistus species, are not crumpled. The calyx has 5 hairy sepals of different sizes, 3 smaller internal and 2 larger external, with a heart-shaped base.  At the centre are numerous orange stamens and one pistil. At the base of each petal is a yellow spot.

The flower size varies from 3 to 5 cm(1.2 to 2 in).  Each petal is around 14 to 20mm (0.5 to 0.8 in).

The flowers usually bloom in spring and summer, and each flower lives for one day. It opens early in the morning, and the petals fall by the end of the day. 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 salviifolius

    The various 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 salviifolius are:

    XCistus salviifolius
    Cistus laurifoliusCistus x dubius
    Cistus inflatusCistus x obtusifolius
    Cistus parviflorusCistus x pauranthus
    Cistus ladaniferCistus x verguinii

    Cistus salviifolius Usage

    Ornamental

    The Sage Leaf Rockrose, like other cistus shrubs,  is commonly used as an ornamental plant due to its attractive looks and easy maintenance. The delicate white flowers contrast with the 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.

    They are used in public landscapes due to their easy maintenance and their capacity to attract pollinator insects.

    Medicinal

    Cistus salviifolius has long been used in traditional medicine. 

    Research has demonstrated its anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities.

    It also has an antimicrobial capacity which has been shown in some studies.

    Biodiversity

    Cistus salviifolius flowers are very attractive to bees, producing good-quality honey. They also attract many other beneficial insects, such as butterflies,  enriching the biodiversity in your garden..

    Reforestation of dry regions

    Cistus salviifolius 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.

    The Sage Leaf Rockrose is also very useful in managing soil erosion.

    Cistus salviifolius habitat

    The Cistus salviifolius plant can be seen in dry scrublands and open woods of pines and oak trees at altitudes up to 1200 m (3900 ft).

    It particularly likes acidic soil and sunny spots.

    Due to its low maintenance needs, it can be seen in abandoned unfertile land and road margins

    How to plant and care for Cistus salviifolius

    Cistus salviifolius is native to the Mediterranean basin, therefore, adapted to hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters.

    It can be found in altitudes up to 1200m (3900ft), and although it can tolerate temperatures down to -12ºC (10ºF), 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 salviifolius likes poor, well-drained, light sandy soils. It can tolerate most types of soils, from acidic to mildly alkaline, but prefers acidic soils.

    It prefers full sun but can also handle semi-shade, although it will not produce as many flowers.

    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 salviifolius

    Cistus salviifolius 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 salviifolius

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

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

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

    How to propagate Cistus salviifolius

    Propagation by seed

    Rockroses can be propagated by seed, although it is not very 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 dislike root disturbance, especially as they age, 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 Wilder

    Article from Portal Do Jardim

    Article from Wildflowers of Israel

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