Thymus zygis (Spanish Thyme)

Thymus zygis, commonly called Spanish Thyme, White Thyme or Red Thyme, is an aromatic evergreen subshrub with a cushion form. It has small green leaves and spikes with spaced whorls of tiny creamy-white flowers.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically in Portugal, Spain and northern Morocco.


Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT&WIDTH

Thymus_zygis height and width

BLOOM TIME

Thymus zygis bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Spanish Thyme scientific name

  • Botanical name:  Thymus zygis  (TY-muss ZI-gis)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Spanish Thyme, White Thyme, Red 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
zygisno information found

How to identify Thymus zygis

Thymus zygis shrub (Spanish Thyme, White Thyme, Red Thyme)

Shrub

Compact, aromatic, evergreen subshrub with upright to decumbent stems forming a cushion shape

It has small grey-green leaves and spikes of tiny white flowers.

The shrub has an average height of 10 to 30 cm (0.3  to 0.9 ft) and a width of around 30 cm ( 0.9 ft).

Thymus zygis stem (Spanish Thyme, White Thyme, Red Thyme)

Stem

The stems are upright in the middle and decumbent on the edges. They are reddish and covered with short hairs.

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. 

Spaced whorls of tiny flowers appear along the terminal part of the stem.

Thymus zygis leaf (Spanish Thyme, White Thyme, Red Thyme)

Leaf

The leaf is aromatic and green, with long hairs at the base. The top surface can be hairless, while the bottom surface is very hairy, giving it a whitish appearance. 

The shape is linear with enrolled margins. It has a prominent central vein and is stalkless.

The leaf is 4.5 to 9 mm (0.17 to 0.35 in) long and 0.6 to 1mm (0.02 to 0.04 in) wide.

Thymus zygis flower (Spanish Thyme, White Thyme, Red Thyme)

Flower

The inflorescence is a long spike around 10cm (3.9 in) formed by separated whorls of flowers.

The flowers are creamy-white 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 4 stamens are white or purple and, together with the pistil, stick out from inside the corolla.

Abundant white flowers appear on upright stems in late spring and early summer.


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Thymus zygis usage

Ornamental

The Spanish thyme forms a pretty cushion of green foliage and creamy-white flowers, making it an interesting addition to your garden.

It also looks lovely in rock and gravel gardens, with its aroma as a bonus.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. It can be planted in containers, beds or borders.

It’s ideal for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.

Medicinal

Since ancient times, Thymus zygis has been used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, catarrh and cough.

Studies have demonstrated its antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and analgesic activities.

Cosmetics

The essential oil is used for cleansing and deodorant products.

Culinary

Spanish thyme is widely used for cooking in Spain and Portugal. It can be used either fresh or dried as a condiment in stews and sauces.

It is one of the main ingredients used for pickled olives, which is why one of its many common names is Olive Thyme.

Biodiversity

The flowers of Spanish thyme are rich in nectar, being very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

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.

Thymus zygis habitat

Spanish Thyme grows naturally on dry stony and infertile soils, in clearings and edges of thickets and pine forests. Also, on uncultivated scrublands, slopes and roadsides.

How to care for Thymus zygis

Cold exposure

This thyme is quite hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -10ºc (14ºF). 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.

It is not frost-tolerant, so it will need protection from strong frosts in the winter.

Sun exposure

This plant needs full sun exposure, at least 6 hours per day.

Soil

It likes poor, well-drained stony soils. Sandy and loamy soils are ideal.

It can tolerate most types of soil PH: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.

Watering

Thymus zygis is a drought-tolerant plant native to the Mediterranean basin and adapted to hot, dry summers. So it rarely needs watering once established. It can go for about 4 months without water if the temperature is not excessively high.

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.

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. 

It especially dislikes humid winters and cannot tolerate being water-logged.

Other conditions

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

It can survive up to 2000m (6400 ft) altitude.

How to prune Thymus zygis

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

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 zygis

This thyme can be propagated by seeds, cuttings, layering and division.

Propagation by seed

Sow in spring in a cold frame or in autumn in a greenhouse. Do not cover or barely cover the seeds as they need light to germinate. The seeds usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 15ºC (60ºF).

Plant the seeds in individual pots as soon as they are strong enough to handle. Keep them in the greenhouse or cold frame to grow a bit more. Plant them in their final location after the last frost in spring or in autumn.

When transplanting, pinch the tip of each stem 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

Wild thyme is especially easy to propagate by layering. Like other ground-covering 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 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

Document from Moneteriza

Volume XII from Flora Iberica

Books

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood

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