7 types of cistus (Rock Roses) for your dry garden

Rock roses are the perfect plants to survive the climate changes we face. If you are looking for hardy and drought-tolerant shrubs to plant in your low-maintenance dry garden, you have come to the right place.

Among the many types of cistus plants that exist, I have selected 7 species with different sizes and colours that may suit your preference.

7 stunning types of cistus (rockroses)

I will describe each Cistus with lots of images so that you can easily see what they look like and also compare them in terms of size, hardiness, drought tolerance and blooming times. 

Let’s walk through each plant and then compare them so that you can select the best cistus for your garden.

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    Varieties of Cistus (Rock Roses)

    Cistus plants, commonly known as rock roses, are mostly native to the Mediterranean basin, where they are adapted to grow in full sun and poor, well-drained soils. This makes them an ideal choice for a Mediterranean garden style.

    They are drought-tolerant, hardy and can tolerate most types of soils, from acid to mildly alkaline.

    These robust  evergreen shrubs can be very diverse:

    • Foliage can vary from silver to dark green.
    • Flowers can come in various shades of pink and white.
    • Habit can vary from low spreading to mounding to upright.
    • Size can range from very small (20 cm / 8 in) to very tall (2 m / 6.5 ft) or more.

    We can say there is a variety of cistus for every preference.

    Cistus crispus (Curled Leaf Rock Rose)

    Cistus crispus, commonly known as Curled Leaf Rock Rose or Pink Rock Rose, is small with a rounded spreading form. The rough, curled grey-green leaves contrast with the delicate pink flowers.

    Since it’s quite small, it makes a great choice for the front of borders and beds, but also looks lovely as a solitary plant. 

    I really love to see them in rock and gravel gardens, where they seem to belong.

    Cistus crispus
    • Size: 30-40cm (1-1.3 ft) height, 0.8-1m (2.6-3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun / Partial Shade
    • Drought-tolerance: Aprox 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Southwest Europe to North Africa)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Curled Leaf Rock rose.

    Cistus creticus (Cretan Rock Rose)

    Cistus creticus, commonly called Cretan Rock Rose or Pink Rock Rose, is a bushy, rounded, evergreen shrub. It has green leaves with wavy edges and purple-pink flowers with a crumpled tissue paper appearance.

    It can be used as a solitary plant or in borders and beds, being a good choice for rock and gravel gardens. Since it can tolerate salt sprays, it´s also suitable for coastal gardens.

    As they can grow quite big, you may want to place them in larger borders or beds and more to the back end.

    They also produce a brownish sticky resin called labdanum that will stick to your clothes if you brush past it. So you may want to keep them away from the paths.

    Cistus creticus
    • Size: 0.8 -1 m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) height, 0.8 – 1 m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -8º C (17 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun / Partial Shade
    • Drought-tolerance: Approx 5 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Greek Islands, namely Crete)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of the Cretan Rock rose.

    Cistus salviifolius (Sage Leaf Rock Rose)

    Cistus salviifolius, also known as Sage Leaf Rock Rose because the leaves look like sage leaves, is a bushy, upright to spreading evergreen shrub. Its leaves are green and wrinkled, and the flowers are white with yellow centres. Unlike most cistus flowers, these are not crumpled.

    The Sage Leaf Rock Rose is very a very showy plant, with its bushy foliage and lots of delicate white flowers. It looks good in borders and beds, especially in rock or gravel gardens. It is interesting as a solitary plant because of its dense form and showy flowers.

    Cistus salviifolius
    • Size: 0.8 – 1m (2.6 – 3.2 ft) in height, 1m ( 3.2 ft) or more in width.
    • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun / Partial Shade
    • Drought-tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin (Southern Europe and North Africa)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of Sage Leaf Rock rose.

    Cistus albidus (White Leaf Rock Rose)

    Cistus albidus, is a bushy evergreen upright shrub with tough greyish-white hairy leaves; hence the name white-leat rock rose or grey-leaf cistus. The fragile lilac-pink flowers with crumpled petals pop out from the dense grey foliage. It is a lovely sight!

    The greyish-white foliage of these rockroses makes a lovely contrast with dark green-leaved plants. But they also stand out as a solitary plant or planted in mass along a border. 

    They are usually 1m (3.2 ft)  tall or more, so are best for the middle or back of a border. As they also spread quite wide, they are best suited for larger spaces.

    cistus albidus
    • Size: 1 m (3.2 ft) height, 1 m (3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -10º C (14 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun 
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 4 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin 

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of White Leaf Rock Rose.

    Cistus monspeliensis (Montpellier Rock Rose)

    Cistus monspeliensis, is commonly called Montpellier Rock Rose (it was first described in the city of Montpellier) or Narrow-leaved Rockrose.

    It is an upright evergreen shrub with an overall rounded shape. The leaves are rough, narrow and intense green and the papery-like flowers are white with yellow centres. 

    This cistus is a pretty addition to your garden, with the delicate white papery flowers contrasting with the bushy foliage of narrow and thick wrinkled leaves. Looks great in any place in the garden. A good choice for the middle or back of borders, beds or as a solitary plant.

    Cistus monspeliensis
    • Size: 1 to 1.25 m (3.2 to 4 ft) height, 80 cm to 1m (2.6 to 3.2 ft) width
    • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun 
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 5 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin ( S. Europe and N. Africa)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of the Montpellier Rock Rose.

    Cistus laurifolius (Laurel Leaf Rock Rose)

    Cistus laurifolius is commonly called Laurel Leaf Rock Rose because its leaves look like Laurel leaves.

    It’s a tall upright evergreen shrub with dark green shiny leaves and clusters of white paper-like flowers with yellow centres.

    Due to its form and height, it makes a good choice for a hedge. However, it also looks nice as a solitary plant.

    On hot days it releases a pleasant incense-like perfume, which makes it a good choice for aromatic gardens.

    Cistus laurifolius
    • Size: 2m (6.5 ft) or more in height, 1 to 1.25 m (3.2 to 4 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -20º C (-4 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun / Partial Shade
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 5 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin ( S. Europe, N. Africa and Turkey)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of the Laurel Leaf Rock rose.

    Cistus ladanifer (Gum Rock Rose)

    Cistus ladanifer is commonly called Gum Rock Rose because of the sticky gum that it releases.

    It’s a large erect evergreen shrub with dark green glossy leaves and solitary white flowers, usually with a dark maroon spot at the base of each petal and a crumpled tissue paper appearance.

    Due to its shape and height, it is suited as a hedge plant. However, it also looks nice as a solitary plant.

    They produce a brownish sticky resin called labdanum that will stick to your clothes if you brush against it. So it is a good idea to keep them away from the paths.

    Cistus ladanifer
    • Size: 2m (6.5 ft) or more in height, 1 to 1.25 m (3.2 to 4 ft) in width
    • Hardiness: -12º C (10 ºF)
    • Sunlight: Full Sun
    • Drought tolerance: Approx 5 months
    • Origin: Mediterranean Basin ( S. France, Spain, Portugal, and N. Africa)

    Learn more about this shrub in our detailed description of the Gum Rock rose.

    What do Cistus look like?

    7 types of cistus compared (chart)

    Cistus plants have very delicate flowers with crumpled petals (with the exception of cistus salviifolius) that look like tissue paper. The flower colour can be pink or white, and, in some cases, for example, the Gum rock rose, have a maroon blotch at the base of each petal.

    The leaves also are quite varied. They can have different shapes, lanceolate, oval, or elliptic, with straight or wavy edges. Their colour tone may range from whitish to mid-green to dark green. 

    The size and habit are also quite diverse, from very small to quite tall and spreading to upright.

    The leaves are often aromatic, especially on warmer days. In some cistus plants, such as C. ladanifer and C. creticus the leaves are covered with a sticky, aromatic resin, which gives them a shiny look.

    In the chart, you may see how the different parts of the selected cistus compare to each other.

    Height and Width of Cistus plants

    cistus (rockrose) height and width chart

    The height and width of Cistus (rockrose) plants can be quite varied. From very small dwarf types, such as Cistus crispus to quite tall ones, like Cistus laurifolius and Cistus ladanifer.

    The habit can also vary from prostrate to rounded to upright.

    Which is the tallest Cistus?

    The size of any plant can vary based on many factors, such as soil, weather, watering and so on. However, generally, the tallest cistus is the gum Rock rose, i.é,. Cistus ladanifer, whose height can reach 4 meters (12 feet).

    Which Cistus is good for ground cover?

    Short and prostrate rock roses make pretty groundcovers that can replace the lawn.

    Two types of cistus are great candidates for ground cover:

    • Cistus crispus, the shortest cistus with a height between 30 and 40 cm (11 and 15 in). However, it can spread up to 1 meter (3.2 feet), which makes it a very interesting ground cover to replace the lawn. Also a
    • Cistus salviifolius ‘prostrate’ is a very large spreading cistus with a height between 30 and 60 cm (1 and 2 ft) and a width between 1.8 and 2.4 m (6 and 6 ft).

    Cistus bloom times

    Bloom times of cistus plants

    Cistus plants will bloom around spring and summer. Some types start a little earlier than others, and the duration of the bloom time also varies a little.

    Each individual flower will only last for one day. They bloom in the morning and generally fall in the evening. But the next day, new flowers appear, repeating for many weeks.

    Many factors affect flowering, such as temperature, sunlight availability, and soil fertility, so there may be slight variations depending on your garden´s environment. But generally, the bloom times for the 7 selected species in this article are shown on the chart.

    Which is the hardiest Cistus?

    cistus hardiness chart

    If you give your cistus the right growing conditions, such as well-drained soil and no fertilization, most cistus will be quite hardy. They will only suffer in very wet and cold winters.

    In this article, I have selected the most cold-hardy types because I always try to choose the plants that are better adapted to weather extremes that we face with climate change.

    Nevertheless, some Cistus are naturally tougher than others. Depending on your climate, you may choose the best ones for your garden based on the hardiness chart shown here.

    If you select a type that is tender in your region then you may need to plant the Cistus in containers so you can move it to a sheltered place in the winter.

    Which is the most drought-tolerant Cistus?

    Cistus drought tolerance chart

    Cistus are amazingly tough plants that can survive hot and dry weather for long periods of time and remain evergreen with showy blooms.

    Although all rock roses are drought-tolerant, some are extremely resistant to drought, such as Laurel leaf rock rose, gum rock rose and montepellier rockrose.

    The chart uses the drought-tolerance code defined by Olivier Filippi (https://jardin-sec.com/), which I find very useful and have found to be correct based on my own experience.

    Which is the best cistus for your garden?

    This is the question that I hope to answer with all the information provided in this article. The best cistus will be different for different people and different environments.

    While some conditions you cannot change, such as the aspect and hardiness of the plant, others you can adjust, like soil and watering.

    Steps to choose the best cistus for you

    • Check if the cistus is hardy enough for your climate. If not, then you need to select a different one.
    • Check if you have poor, well-drained soil. If not, see if you can adjust it.
    • Check if the size and shape are appropriate for the spot you want to plant in your garden.
    • Check if your climate can support the water needs for the cistus. If not, plan to water in extreme drought and heat.

    If you follow these steps, you will find the right plant for your garden.

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