Thymus capitatus (Conehead Thyme)
Thymus capitatus, also known as Thymbra capitata or Coridothymus capitatus, is commonly called Conehead Thyme or Spanish Oregano.
A small, aromatic, evergreen shrub with a compact cushion form. It has small dark green leaves along white stems topped with conical heads of tiny purple-pink flowers and green bracts.
It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin.
Conehead Thyme scientific name
- Botanical name: Thymus capitatus (TY-muss Kap-ih-TAH-tus)
- Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
- Common name: Conehead Thyme, Spanish Oregano
- Synonyms: Thymbra capitata, Cordiothymus capitatus, Satureja capitata
|There are several versions of the origin of the name:
1- From the Greek word thymon meaning smoke or to fumigate. Related to its use as an incense for its fragrance.
2- From the Greek word thumos meaning courage. Thyme symbolised bravery.
3- From the Greek word thymos, meaning perfume. Because of its intense fragrance
|Means to have flowers, fruits or the whole plant growing in a dense head. Referring to the dense flower head of this plant.
How to identify Thymus capitatus
Small, aromatic evergreen shrub with a cushion shape that slowly forms a ground cover.
It has many silvery white stems full of small dark green leaves and is topped with conical spikes of tiny purple-pink flowers and green bracts. When it blooms, it gets completely covered with purple blossoms.
Very aromatic, with a powerful, pungent and spicy smell (similar to savoury).
In prolonged drought, the foliage can become partially deciduous, revealing the silvery structure of the branches.
The shrub has an average height of 40 cm (1.3 ft) and a width of 40 to 50 cm ( 1.3 to 1.6 ft).
The stems are upright, woody and much branched. Their colour is silvery-white because they are densely covered with short whitish hairs.
They are squared, with opposite leaves at each node, with tufts of smaller foliage in the leaf axils.
Flower heads appear on the terminal part of the stem.
The leaf is dark-green, fleshy, and not very hairy.
It has a linear-lanceolate shape with flat margins and no stalk.
The size varies between 5 to 10 mm ( 0.2 to 0.4 in) long and 1 to 1.5 mm (0.04 to 0.06 in) wide.
The inflorescence has a conical form and varies between 11 to 15 mm (0.4 to 0.6 in) in height and 10-12 mm ( 0.4 to 0.5 ) in width. It comprises tiny flowers and bracts that overlap, forming cone-like heads.
The flowers are purple-pink with a fused corolla. They are two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes almost fused into one, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. The stamens are also purple-pink and stick out from inside the corolla.
The flowers bloom in the summer and form a dense purple cushion of blossoms with a lovely appearance.
Thymus capitatus usage
The Conehead thyme, with its dense cushion form covered with purple-pink flowers during the flowering season, is very attractive and appreciated as an ornamental plant.
It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. Can be planted in pots, beds or borders.
It is very interesting as a ground cover and a good choice for rock gardens, gravel gardens, herb gardens and seaside gardens.
Suited for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.
Thymus capitatus has been used as a medicinal herb for many centuries. The essential oil is antiseptic and is used for many health problems.
Internally it is used to treat cough, throat and lung infections, indigestion, gastritis, and diarrhoea. Externally it is used as a gargle for gum disease and as a wash to treat wounds and skin fungal infections.
Many studies have shown that this plant has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antioxidant activity.
Research has also confirmed its antinociceptive activity (treatment of pain).
It cannot be used in aromatherapy because it is strongly irritant to the mucous membranes.
The essential oil obtained from the Conehead Thyme, also known as “Spanish oregano oil”, has deodorant and disinfectant properties.
It is used in perfumery, soaps, toothpaste, and mouthwash solutions.
Conehead Thyme is used in culinary, either dry or fresh. It has a savoury (salty and spicy) flavour.
Can be added to salads and also used in cooked meals such as roasted, stewed and grilled meats
It is one of the ingredients of the herb mix “Zaatar” used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
The nectar of Thymus capitatus flowers is the main source of the famous Greek Hymettus honey. This thyme is found on the slopes of Mount Hymettus (near Athens).
The pretty flowers of Conehead Thyme are rich in nectar and very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. This enhances the biodiversity of your garden.
Thyme symbolises love and courage. The knight´s cloaks and tunics would have thyme leaves embroidered by their loved ones.
Greeks believed that thyme would bring courage and motivation and used thyme sprigs in baths and the clothes of knights before battles.
Thymus capitatus habitat
This shrub can be seen in dry, rocky areas, scrublands and coastal areas throughout the Mediterranean basin.
It is extremely resistant to adverse environments growing well in arid terrain with low nutritional value and sunny exposure. It can also tolerate maritime exposure.
How to care for Thymus capitatus
It’s a hardy plant and tolerates temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF) and winter frosts.
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 low temperatures.
This plant needs full sun exposure, at least 6 hours per day.
Conehead thyme likes poor, well-drained stony soils. It favours neutral and mildly alkaline soils, although it can tolerate slightly acidic soils also.
Thymus capitatus is native to the Mediterranean basin and adapted to hot, dry summers. So it rarely needs watering once established. It especially dislikes humid winters.
This plant has very low water needs and can survive approximately 5 months of drought it the temperature is not too hot.
During its evolution, it developed mechanisms for drought tolerance:
- Hairy 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 thyme every two to three weeks during the summer. Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.
When watering, 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 Thyme (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching.
Gravel mulch is also useful during the winter to protect the foliage from the wet soil.
This plant can endure strong winds and maritime exposure. But it dislikes wet conditions, especially in winter.
How to prune Thymus capitatus
This thyme needs to be pruned a couple of times during the year to remain vigorous and beautiful.
Ideally, you should give it a light prune in the spring and then a harder pruning in late summer after flowering to encourage bushiness. Be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.
Thyme should be harvested just before flowering when it has the highest quantity of essential oil.
How to propagate Thymus capitatus
Propagation by seed
Thyme can be propagated by seed, but germination can be erratic.
Sow them in spring in a cold frame or the autumn in a greenhouse. Sow seed on the surface. Do not cover or barely cover as they need light to germinate. The seeds usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 15ºC (60ºF).
When the seedlings are strong enough to handle, you can plant them in individual pots and grow them in the greenhouse or cold frame. Gradually acclimatize them to outdoor conditions before planting in the final location after the last frosts in spring or in autumn.
When transplanting, pinch each stem’s tip to stimulate more branching to create a bushy form.
Propagation by cuttings
Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings.
Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from mid-summer to early autumn. Take a 5 to 8 cm (2.7 to 4 in) cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within a few weeks. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter.
Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts.
Basal cuttings of young shoots can be taken in the spring. Roots will form in a frame (to maintain moisture) during the summer, and the plant will be ready to plant in the final spot in autumn.
Propagation by layering
Thyme can also be propagated by layering the branches at any time during the year. Bend the stem down, hold it to the ground with a peg or rock, and cover it with soil.
Propagation by division
This plant can be divided in spring or autumn.
Dig up the plant and carefully divide it into 2 or 3 smaller sections. Each section should have a robust root structure.
The divisions with larger roots can be planted directly in their final position in the garden.
The smaller divisions with less developed roots will first need to be potted and grown in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are strong enough to be planted in the garden.
Other Thymes you may also like
Sources of information used for this article
Article from Jardin Sec
Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood