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Cistus April 2008-2.jpg
Cistus monspeliensis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Cistaceae
Genus: Cistus

See text

Cistus (from the Greek "Kistos") is a genus of flowering plants in the rockrose family Cistaceae, containing about 20 species (Ellul et al. 2002). They are perennial shrubs found on dry or rocky soils throughout the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal through to the Middle East, and also on the Canary Islands.

Together with its many hybrids and cultivars is commonly encountered as a garden flower.

The common name rockrose is applied to the species, a name also shared by the related genera Halimium, Helianthemum and Tuberaria, all in the family Cistaceae. The common name gum cistus is applied to resin bearing species, especially C. ladanifer.


The leaves are evergreen, opposite, simple, usually slightly rough-surfaced, 2–8 cm long; in a few species (notably C. ladanifer), the leaves are coated with a highly aromatic resin called labdanum.

They have showy 5-petaled flowers ranging from white to purple and dark pink, in a few species with a conspicuous dark red spot at the base of each petal.


There are about 20 species in the genus:


They are thermophilous plants, which require open, sunny places. This plant genus is peculiar in that it has developed a range of specific adaptations to resist summer drought and frequent disturbance events, such as fire and grazing. In addition, it can form both ectomycorrhizas and arbuscular mycorrhizas. More than 200 ectomycorrhiza-forming fungal species belonging to 40 genera have been reported so far to be associated with Cistus.[1] As with many other Cistaceae, the species of Cistus have the ability to form mycorrhizal associations with truffles (Tuber) and are thus able to thrive on poor sandy soils or rocks. Cistus ladanifer has been found to have mycorrhizal associations with Boletus edulis, Boletus rhodoxanthus, and Laccaria laccata.[2]

Cistus are the only host of Cytinus hypocistis, a small parasitic plant that lives on the roots and is noticeable only for a short period of time when in flower. The presence of the parasite does not seem to hurt the host population.

Cistus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Coleophora confluella and Coleophora helianthemella, the latter recorded on Cistus monspeliensis.

Various Cistus species are known to emit volatile oils, rendering the plants flammable. Some sources state that under dry, hot conditions these species may be capable of self-ignition.[3]


Cistus and Halimium form a cohesive and the most derived clade within Cistaceae.[4] Phylogenetic analyses delineated two major lineages within Cistus, a purple-flowered clade and a white-flowered clade, excepting Cistus parviflorus.[5] Further analysis of morphological characters show that C. parviflorus has the purple flowers of the purple-flowered clade, but the sessile stigmas of the white-flowered clade, indicating a potential instance of speciation via hybridization.

The white-flowered Cistus lineage was further found to consist of two groups with asymmetric characteristics, which together with ecological evidence, supports the theory of adaptive radiation within this lineage.[6]


In popular medicine, infusions of cistuses are used to treat diarrhea.[citation needed] Cistus Incanus specifically is traditionally used for cold, flu, respiratory tract infections, etc.


Cistuses are suitable for sunny gardens with a nearly frost-free Mediterranean climate. The hardiest of the species is C. laurifolius, which survived the hard frost at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in 1895 that eliminated all the cistuses save this and two white-flowered natural hybrids, C. × corbariensis, already grown by John Tradescant the Elder, and C. × loretii, a 19th-century introduction.[7]


Cultivars (those marked agm have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit) include:

  • C. × aguilarii 'Maculatus'agm[8]
  • C. × argenteus 'Peggy Sammons'[9] - pink flowers, grey-green leaves[10]
  • C. × cyprius agm[11]
  • C. × cyprius var. ellipticus 'Elma'agm[12]
  • C. × dansereaui - prostrate form of this hybrid is often cultivated
  • C. × dansereaui 'Decumbens'agm[13]
  • C. × florentinus - white flowers
  • C. × hybridus - pink buds, white flowers
  • C. × lenis 'Grayswood Pink'agm[14]
  • C. × pulverulentus 'Sunset'agm[15]
  • C. × purpureus agm[16] - pink petals with dark blotches near centre[10]
  • C. × skanbergii[17] - small pink flowers
  • 'Paladin' - large white flowers, dark green leaves
  • 'Snow Fire'agm[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Comandini O, Contu M, Rinaldi AC. (2006). "An overview of Cistus ectomycorrhizal fungi". Mycorrhiza 16 (6): 381–395. doi:10.1007/s00572-006-0047-8. PMID 16896800. Retrieved 2011-05-18. 
  2. ^ Águeda B, Parladé J, de Miguel AM, Martínez-Peña F. (2006). "Characterization and identification of field ectomycorrhizae of Boletus edulis and Cistus ladanifer". Mycologia 98 (1): 23–30. doi:10.3852/mycologia.98.1.23. PMID 16800301. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  3. ^ "Cistus, fuel moisture and flammability" -California Forest and Range Experiment Station (1960)
  4. ^ Guzmán, B. and P. Vargas. 2009. Historical biogeography and character evolution of Cistaceae (Malvales) based on analysis of plastid rbcL and trnL-trnF sequences. Organisms Diversity & Evolution 9:83-99.
  5. ^ Guzmán, B.; Vargas, P. (2005). "Systematics, character evolution, and biogeography of Cistus L. (Cistaceae) based on ITS, trnL-trnF, and matK sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37: 644–660. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.04.026. 
  6. ^ Guzman, B.; Lledo, M. D.; Vargas, P. (2009). "Adaptive Radiation in Mediterranean Cistus (Cistaceae)". PLoS ONE 4: e6362. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006362. 
  7. ^ Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories, (1964) 1992, s.v. "Cistus".
  8. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × aguilarii 'Maculatus'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  9. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × argenteus 'Peggy Sammons'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Taylor, Jane (1993). Plants for dry gardens - Beating the drought. London: Frances Lincoln Limited. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-7112-1222-0. 
  11. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × cyprius". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × cyprius var. ellipticus 'Elma'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × dansereaui 'Decumbens'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × lenis 'Grayswood Pink'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  15. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × pulverulentus 'Sunset'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × purpureus". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus × skanbergii". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  18. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Cistus 'Snow Fire'". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 

External links[edit]