Cistus Shrub Guide: How To Grow, Prune, Plant, ID Types of Rock Roses

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 28, 2024

Woman looking at cistus shrubs after learning how to identify 9 types of rock roses, and how to plant and grow cistus flowers for maximum blooms and beauty.

The Cistus shrub plant should be at the top of your list if you are a very picky gardener who wants the most stunning yet low-maintenance plants.

In fact, it’s an awesome addition to your outdoor areas if you’re looking for drought-tolerant trees and plants that are not too demanding or are effortless to grow.

Plus, this gorgeous plant delivers breathtaking natural beauty, deserving of the name Rockrose.

Rockrose means that it can live and thrive even in hard, rocky soil, fitting into your xeriscape landscape garden. It works whether you are going for a Mediterranean or coastal style, so there is so much that you could do with it.

In this Cistus shrub guide, you’ll learn how to grow, prune, plant, and ID the different types of Rock roses, also known as the Cistus shrub.

Cistus, Rockrose

(Cistus spp)

Cistus image in an oval frame on a green background.
  • Family: Cistaceae
  • Genus: Cistus
  • Leaf: Ovate or lanceolate in shape, wavy margins, opposite pattern arrangement, measuring around 4 inches long and less than an inch wide
  • Bark: Smooth surface, gray or grayish brown in color
  • Seed: Fine, tiny, several of them in a single capsule
  • Blossoms: White, pink, purple in color, smooth texture, with 4-5 petals
  • Fruit: Takes the form of a capsule, dries to a brown color when mature
  • Native Habitat: Mediterranean
  • Height: 2-5 feet tall
  • Canopy: 5-8 feet wide
  • Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Native Growing Zone: USDA zones 8-10

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Growing a Cistus From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling

Do you want to grow a tree or shrub like the Rockrose to spruce up your desert garden?

You can start xeriscaping with the Cistus in a few simple steps.

From Seed

The seeds of the Rockrose are fine, too tiny to be used for planting; therefore, it is the least recommended way to go.5 However, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

There are a number of nurseries selling them in stores and online, and you can pick whatever type you want; just remember that you won’t really have a variety that is true to the parent breed. Plant several at a time in well-draining sandy soil and place the trays or containers in a cool, dry place.

Mist and provide sunlight accordingly as you wait for them to germinate, probably in spring, after which you can go ahead and transplant.

From Seedling

This is a better propagation method instead of starting with seeds. All you have to do is dig a hole big enough for the rootball, place the seedling, and then backfill, watering and caring for the sapling until new growth forms.

Make sure that you pick a spot that is dry and moderately lit.

From Cuttings

This is the fastest and most effective propagation method.8 You will need to take 6-inch softwood cuttings between spring and summer, checking that the parent breed is strong and healthy.

Take the end tip, remove the leaves, and dip it in the rooting hormone before planting it in a container filled with potting mix. Place the container in a warm spot with indirect light, at least until there is new growth.

Ideal Cistus Growing Zone

Just look at the natural habitat of the Cistus shrubs. These are plants that can survive the hot temperature of the Mediterranean region, so that should give you an idea of their ideal planting zones.

Considering their background and adaptations, it is not a surprise that the growing zones for Cistus (where to grow Rockroses for the best yield) are in USDA zones 8–10.1 These regions are best for drought-tolerant gardens,10 known for being sunny, and the winters are not extreme.

What Is Cistus Growth Rate?

How long does it take for a tree to grow? In this case, how long will you have to wait for your shrub to attain full height?

Lucky enough for you if you are in a rush to grow your shrubs as hedges or privacy screens, the plants are able to grow to as much as 3 feet in just a single year. However, note that how long it takes to grow Cistus usually depends on the particular type of variety and its growing conditions, so it tends to vary.

Best Growing Conditions for Cistus

The best part about being a Cistus parent is that you won’t break your back with the care and maintenance.

The plant is resilient and able to survive even if you are a beginner or sort of have a black thumb. It lives in the following conditions.


One thing to remember when watering a tree is that the first years of life are everything, even if you are dealing with a drought-tolerant shrub like the Rockrose. It will need more regular watering in its first year until the roots have fully established themselves.

After that, the watering needs for Cistus plants are more relaxed. Once a week or even every two weeks will do, depending on the prevailing conditions.


The Rockrose naturally grows in hot regions, in case you are wondering how much sunlight does Cistus need each day. Therefore, you can tell that it will thrive best in a sunny spot away from shading structures, but remember to provide more indirect sunlight for seedlings until they are well established.


The Cistus is not that picky when it comes to the type of soil. It could be rocky, sandy, and of poor quality, just as long as it drains well and is deep enough for the roots to spread out.

As for the pH, check that it lies between 5.5–7.5.


Interestingly, Rockroses hate when the soil has a high nutrient level. They retaliate by being too leggy, with shorter lifespans, fewer flowers, and leaves that are more susceptible to damage by frost.4

If you feel that your plants need some boost, you can add a well-balanced fertilizer in small quantities, but it is not necessary.

How To Maintain Cistus (How To Prune)

The Rock Rose plant is generally easy to maintain when it comes to other things, but like any other shrub, one thing you cannot skimp on is the pruning. You don’t want to end up with odd-looking plants that have long grown out of shape and are susceptible to pests and diseases.

For the younglings, you can prune them out in springtime when there is no danger of frost.

Eye-level shot of a single pale purple Rockrose flower with a yellow center stands out against the dense dark green foliage of the shrub.

(Image: Hans17)

Take out the main stem or any solid side shoots by two-thirds, this will boost the growth of other branches and keep them neat and well-shaped. On the contrary, older and well-established Rockroses don’t need regular pruning.

In fact, it is not advisable because they find it hard to recover, and that could be disastrous. The best thing to do is chop off any dead leaves and twigs or any part damaged by frost during early spring.

One important concern among gardeners is how to tell them that it is time to replace the shrub. Do you keep pruning each time, or should you let go and just grow a new plant?

For Cistus, it is inevitable that the bush will naturally start being leggy.

It often happens when they get older, and gardeners cut the shoots to maintain their shape. But sometimes, the woody stems don’t resprout after being cut back, so if your shrub is getting too old to regrow, it is a sign to replace.

Planting Tips for Cistus

Seasoned gardeners adhere to the following planting tips for Cistus, and it is crucial to also follow them for the most seamless planting process.

When To Plant Cistus for the Best Yield

Rockroses love it when it is warm and sunny outside, so it goes without saying that the perfect time to plant them is in spring,9 which is when there is no danger of frost, the soil is moist, and there is more than enough time before winter comes.

How Far Apart To Plant Cistus

The amount of space you should leave between Cistus plants depends on the variety or how far it is able to spread out.

While 3–8 feet of distance will do, you can adjust accordingly based on your needs and how wide your Cistus is expected to grow.

Companion Plants For Growing Cistus

There are so many ways that you can plant your Cistus in a way that serves your needs. Do you want privacy trees?

A drought-tolerant flower garden? Or a rock garden?

There are no limits to what you can and cannot do with companion plants of Rockroses, just as long as your choice plants are able to survive in the same spot. The goal is to find plants that are used to the same growing conditions as the Cistus and get creative with them.

For instance, if you are hoping to plant a stunning Mediterranean-themed garden, you can go for plants like the lavender, with its beautiful flowers, or even opt for trees like the olive tree because it does not demand watering and thrives under the sun.

On the other hand, if you are going for easy-maintenance perennials, consider the sage and Sea Holly. For ornamental grasses, the blue fescue will do, while groundcovers like the thyme and stonecrop will help get rid of weeds.

How To Identify Cistus

There are quite a number of Cistus plant varieties,7 and you may run into various types of trees and shrubs that look similar.

Graphics showing how to identify cistus shrub, with images of Cistus leaves, a white Cistus flower with a yellow center and red spots, bark texture, and a U.S. map indicating temperature ranges for the plant.

So how do you know for sure that you are indeed dealing with a Cistus and not any other?

Cistus Leaves

The evergreen leaves of the Cistus plants are hard to miss. You will definitely tell by their ovate or lanceolate shape and how their margins have a sort of wavy pattern.

On the stem, they are arranged in an opposite pattern and measure about 4 inches long and less than a single inch wide.

Cistus Flower

From the name Rockrose, you can tell that the Cistus flowers look just like roses, with their showy petals that come in so many colors.

Depending on the particular type, the blooms may be white, pink, blue, or purple in color, with variations in the center and bottom shades.

Cistus Seeds

Of course, the vivid flowers of Rockrose do a great job when it comes to tree pollination or attracting birds and bees. When that happens, the fruits form, which take the shape of capsules that dry up when mature.

Inside these brown pods lie several tiny seeds inside, which you can go ahead and use for propagation.

9 Cistus Varieties

You will be spoilt for choice when selecting a Cistus plant because there are so many cultivars, each with unique features. You will have to decide on the level of hardiness, flower color, and eventual size, but to help you, here are some favorite options for gardeners.

1. Cistus purpureus

More commonly known as the Purple Rockrose, you can spot this shrub with its deep purple flowers.

It reaches around 4 feet high and can spread to 5 feet, forming a compact round shape.2

A vibrant Cistus purpureus flower with crinkled pink petals and a distinctive yellow center marked by red spots, surrounded by green leaves.

(Image: labradorite_luster12)

2. Cistus incanus

This breathtaking plant is more famously known as the Hoary Rockrose and has signature purple to pink flowers against greyish-green leaves. It is actually a hybrid between the Cistus albidus and Cistus crispus.

A Cistus ladanifer shrub in bloom with thin, green leaves and white crumpled-paper-like flowers that have yellow stamens and red markings.

(Image: Breda Lund13)

3. Cistus ladanifer

Another famous Rockrose variety, known far and wide for its aromatic bluish leaves and white flowers with red marks at the base.

Certainly, a sight to behold, and the 5-foot height also helps.

4. Cistus corbariensis

Now, onto a hybrid cultivar that is equally as elegant as its parent breeds. This one stands 4 feet high and has beautiful white flowers with yellow centers, measuring about 1 ½ inches wide.

5. Cistus creticus

The pink flowers of the Cretan Rockrose also don’t disappoint with its stunning pink flowers that have bright yellow centers.

Many use it as a focal point in their yard thanks to its decorative properties.

A Cistus creticus with dark green leaves and a single flower with pink petals and a bright yellow center, growing in the foreground against a blurred panoramic view of a town in the distance.

(Image: Paul Braun14)

6. Cistus skanbergii

This breed will do if you are looking for a shrub with a magnificent spread. It effortlessly reaches around 8 feet wide, and you will easily notice the gray-green lanceolate leaves.

A Cistus salviifolius shrub with white flowers showcasing bright yellow centers and green, sage-like leaves.

(Image: Ina15)

7. Cistus salviifolius

Also called the Sage-leaf Rockrose, this shrub extends up to 6 feet across the ground and has signature white flowers with yellow marks underneath.

8. Cistus pulverulentus

It is also referred to as the Magenta Rockrose. This one is perfect if you are all about small shrubs because it grows to only about 2–3 feet high, but the spread is standard at 6–8 feet wide.

9. Cistus albidus

If you are a huge fan of dark lilac flowers with a touch of yellow in the middle, you will absolutely love this variety. The only problem is that it is infamous for growing out of hand when older and becoming too leggy, forcing you to replace it.

A pink Cistus albidus flower with a small insect perched on top of its wrinkled purple petals and yellow stamen center.

(Image: Ina16)

Common Problems of Rock Roses

Another bit of good news for gardeners is that the Rockroses are not very susceptible to pests or diseases. While others have to be on their toes to protect their plants, yours will likely be safe and sound as long as the growing conditions are okay.

If there are issues with the requirements, it will definitely show. You will have to deal with certain problems.

A row of white Rockrose flowers with bright yellow centers surrounded with fuzzy green foliage.

(Image: GERVASIO RUIZ (sitoruiz)18)

Frost damage will kill your plant if it is exposed to cold conditions for too long while waterlogging of the soil could lead to root rot. Planting in extremely alkaline soil could also cause chlorosis or leaf discolorations.

Your plant’s lifespan will also reduce if you use excessive fertilizer or overwater the ground.

Cistus Pests

Fortunately, the plant is not vulnerable to so many pests. However, out of the common pests of the Cistus, the one that seems to keep coming back for more is the aphid.11

It loves feeding on the sap from the leaves, leaving hideous holes and sometimes defoliation.

Pest Control for Cistus

Natural pest control for Cistus is the best and most recommended remedy, although many gardeners opt for pesticides. It is best to avoid excessive use of chemicals in the garden for the well-being of the plants and the environment around them.

In the case of aphids, you can hose them off and apply insecticidal soap or neem oil to keep them off.

Cistus Diseases

It is also great news that the Cistus is not usually affected by the many plant diseases out there. Even if they get infected, the diseases end up only affecting the aesthetics and are not fatal.

Take, for instance, powdery mildew, which covers the parts of the plant. Moreover, speaking of aphids attacking the Rockroses, these insects are also notorious for triggering sooty mold.3

How To Stop Cistus Disease

At-home Cistus disease prevention remedies go a long way to keep your plant safe. For instance, you can make a mixture of baking soda, dish soap, and water and mist them on the leaves to prevent powdery mildew.

It also helps to use insecticidal soaps to get rid of the pests that are known to trigger diseases like sooty mold.

Do you live in a generally hot and dry state and want to start xeriscaping, particularly with flowering plants? Look no further than the Cistus, a famous flowering shrub with brightly-colored blooms and aromatic leaves.

With it, you get literally everything that you would want in a plant: beauty, drought tolerance, low maintenance, and functionality. It works well in almost any soil, just as long as it is deep and well-draining.

It also won’t take much of our time when it comes to care, apart from pruning that is needed annually.

There are so many varieties to choose from in various shapes, sizes, and flower colors, all up for your selection. What makes the Cistus plant even more attractive to grow is the fact that it is not very vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Rock Rose Facts

The Cistus plant, otherwise called the Rockrose, is one that defies all odds, thriving where others can’t. Cistus facts prove that it is a pretty captivating shrub; whether you have a rock garden or are interested in xeriscaping, it fits the bill for all your needs.

It prides itself as one of the lowest-maintenance plant types thanks to its high drought-resistance qualities, evidenced by its original homeland, the Mediterranean. It can withstand high heat, water scarcity, and even strong winds.

There are around 20 members of the Cistacaea family of Rockroses distributed all over,6 from Portugal to the Middle East, all the way to the Canary Islands. Only a handful are being cultivated in the US, still equally stunning in their own rights.

Its living conditions clearly explain the Cistus symbolism, which is that of endurance, sheer strength, and determination.

Once the Cistus plant establishes itself, it will take quite a lot to kill it, not just the weather or pests and diseases, so enjoy this hardy plant for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cistus

What Is Cistus Tea Good For?

The Cistus plant is celebrated for its numerous health benefits, particularly for its antiviral and antibacterial properties in the medical community. Consuming tea brewed from Cistus is known to help combat the common cold and rheumatism, while also enhancing immune function.

For How Long Does the Cistus Plant Bloom?

Typically, the flowers of the cistus last for just a day, only a few hours before they fall off; however, you should expect new ones to show up the next day. To maintain blooming, make sure that the plant receives enough sunlight and grows in well-draining soil.

Are the Flowers of the Rockrose Fragrant?

Unlike what you would expect, the flowers growing on the Cistus are usually unscented. But on the plus side, the leaves of the plants are aromatic, just like other Mediterranean plants like the rosemary.


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12Photo 128046432 (Purple-flowered Rock-Rose) Photo by labradorite_luster / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and changed file format. iNaturalist. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

13Photo 19323759 (Gum Rock-Rose) Photo by Breda Lund / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and changed file format. iNaturalist. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

14Photo 6495163 (Cistus creticus ssp. creticus) Photo by Paul Braun / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. iNaturalist Luxembourg. Resized and changed file format. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

15Photo 62022371 (Sage-leaved Rock-Rose) Photo by Ina / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and changed file format. iNaturalist. Retrieved January, 5, 2024, from   <>

16Photo 62023901 (Grey-leaved Cistus) Photo by Ina / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Resized and changed file format. iNaturalist. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

17Photo by Hans. Pixabay. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

18Photo by GERVASIO RUIZ (sitoruiz). Pixabay. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>

19Species Card Image: Guarrigue cistus in Provence Photo by Natacha de Hepcée. (2023, December 10) / Unsplash License. Cropped and remixed with text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from   <>