Thymus ciliatus (Moroccan Wild Thyme)

Thymus ciliatus, commonly called Moroccan Wild Thyme, is an aromatic, evergreen shrub with a creeping habitat that forms a soft carpet. It has small woolly grey-green leaves and abundant heads of tiny pink flowers and maroon calyces.

It is a moderately drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically to North Africa.


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT&WIDTH

thymus_ciliatus height and width

BLOOM TIME

Thymus ciliatus bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 2 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Moroccan Wild Thyme scientific name

  • Botanical name:  Thymus ciliatus  (TY-muss sil-ee-ATE-us)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Moroccan Wild Thyme
NameMeaning
ThymusThere 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
ciliatusThe Latin word cilia means fringe or eyelashes. Relative to the long hairs on the leaves

How to identify Thymus ciliatus

Thymus ciliatus shrub ground cover (Moroccan Wild Thyme)

Shrub

Compact, aromatic evergreen shrub with a mat-forming shape. It is an interesting ground cover that supports occasional trampling.

It spreads slowly into a dense mass as the stems take root when in contact with the ground. 

It has tiny woolly leaves that change colour with the seasons, purple-grey in winter, grey-green in spring and red in summer after long periods of drought. Is covered with clusters of pink flowers and maroon calyces.

The shrub has an average height of  2 to 8 cm (0.7 to 3.1 in), depending on the amount of trampling. The width is about 50 cm ( 1.6 ft).

Thymus ciliatus stem (Moroccan Wild Thyme)

Stem

The stems are spreading, with reddish-green colour and are hairy.

Like other thymes, the young stems are squared but become rounder and woody at the base as they age.

They have opposite leaves at each node and tufts of smaller foliage in the leaf axils. 

Clusters of pink flower heads appear on the terminal part of the stem

Thymus ciliatus leaf (Moroccan Wild Thyme)

Leaf

The leaf is evergreen with an elliptical shape and long white hairs on both sides, giving it a fluffy look.

The colour of the leaves is very interesting as it changes with the seasons. They are purple-grey during winter turning to grey-green in spring, and finally to a red colour after long periods of drought in the summer. In some cases of extreme drought, the plant may go dormant, losing some of its leaves.

The leaves release a slight aroma when crushed.

Thymus ciliatus flower (Moroccan Wild Thyme)

Flower

The inflorescence is round and composed of tiny pink flowers with maroon calyces arranged in whorls.

The flowers are light pink with a fused corolla inserted inside a hairy maroon calyx. They are two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes almost fused into one, and the lower lip has 3 lobes.

Abundant light pink clusters of flowers bloom in spring.

Thymus ciliatus Usage

Ornamental

The Moroccan wild thyme forms a very pretty carpet of dense woolly grey-green foliage and abundant clusters of pink flowers. 

It is perfect for falling from a pot or a low wall, for filling in crevices of pavement or as an alternative to a lawn where there is only occasional trampling.

It also looks lovely in rock and gravel gardens.

It can be planted in a mixture with other ground thymes creating a beautiful contrast with the different shades of foliage and colours of flowers.

Due to its allelopathic properties (production of substances that inhibit the growth of other plants nearby), it requires very little weeding and, therefore, ideal for low-maintenance gardens.

Medicinal

Since ancient times, Thymus ciliatus has been used in North Africa to treat bronchitis, pulmonary infection, flu, coughs and some gastrointestinal disorders.

Research has found that this species has the highest Thymol amount of any Thyme, which is especially interesting for the pharmacological and cosmetic industries.

Studies have shown its antibacterial activity, which can be used as a food preservative to prevent food poisoning.

Biodiversity

The nectar-rich flowers of Moroccan Wild Thyme are very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. This enhances the biodiversity of your garden.

Cultural

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.

How to care for Thymus ciliatus

Cold exposure

This Thyme is a hardy plant and tolerates temperatures down to -12ºC (10ºF). However, it will need winter protection until it is fully established. Add some mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil.

Sun exposure

This shrub prefers full sun exposure, at least 6 hours per day.

Soil

Moroccon thyme likes poor, well-drained stony soils. It thrives best in neutral and alkaline soils.

Watering

Thymus ciliatus is native to the Mediterranean basin and adapted to hot, dry summers. It can go without water for some time but then goes dormant and loses part of its foliage.

If you want to maintain its beautiful thick carpet appearance, you will need to water it once a week during the summer.

On the other hand, they are prone to fungus diseases (Phytophthora) when they have excess water in hot conditions. So be careful to plant it in well-draining soil and avoid waterlogging.

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. 

Other Conditions

Once established, it requires very little weeding due to its allelopathic properties.

It is quite robust and tolerates occasional foot traffic.

It is best to plant it during the Autumn so it will have all winter to develop its roots.

How to prune Thymus ciliatus

Like other thymes, this shrub needs to be pruned a couple of times during the year to remain vigorous and maintain its cushion form.

Ideally, you should give it a light prune in the spring and another in late summer after flowering. 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 ciliatus

The best ways to propagate creeping thymes are by cuttings, layering and division.

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

Moroccan Wild thyme is especially easy to propagate by layering. Like other spreading thymes, it has horizontal stems that root when in contact with the ground.

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 the 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

Sources of information used for this article

Internet

Article from Jardin Sec

Article from Montrouch Organic

Article from Les Senteurs du Quercy