The Cistus is a genus of small shrubs of the Cistaceae family. The different Cistus species constitute an important part of the Mediterranean woodlands and scrub, and as they are common mostly around the Mediterranean Sea, they are one of the botanical characteristics of the region. In the world there are 31 different species of Cistus. Man hybridized them and created several dozens of cultivated hybrids as ornamental shrubs. They are popular due to their abundant efflorescence at the end of spring, and for being xeromorphic plants. In our garden there are 17 species, and this month we are focusing on one special species: Cistus ladanifer – the Gum Rockrose.
The Gum Rockrose is a shrub that originates in the western Mediterranean basin. It is an evergreen shrub, up to 1.5 meters high and a breadth of up to 1 meter. The branches are rich in sweet oleoresin. The Gum Rockrose is in bloom during May, and is covered with large white flowers, 5-8 cm in diameter. Each flower has five petals, each of which has a crimson spot at its base, and numerous yellow stamens. Another variety of this plant has smooth white flowers, with no spots. In our garden it blooms already in April.
As the common name implies, the Gum Rockrose has branches and leaves that are rich in resin. The oleoresin extracted from the branches is brown and is relatively oily. It is used to manufacture essential oil for numerous uses.
The oleoresin is sweetish, which is why it is used to prepare sweets, food flavoring extracts and chewing gum. The oleoresin is also used to prepare essential oil used in the perfume and soap industries, and anti-aging traits are attributed to it.
The Rockrose’s leaves are covered with glandular hair, from which an oleoresin named labdanum is extracted. The labdanum is used in traditional medicine and aromatherapy. The Labdanum has antibiotic effects and was used both externally, as antiseptic for wounds and internally, to treat diarrhea and as an emmenagogue. The labdanum is used also as incense, some of the incense odors in Jerusalem churches originate from this plant.
The use of the Rockrose as a perfume and incense plant was known even in the Biblical times: in the book of Genesis, chapter 37, in the story of the sons of Jacob selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites coming from the Gilead: ” And they lifted their eyes and saw, and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lot” (Genesis, 37, 25) – the lot mentioned in the Bible is the Rockrose.
In Israel you can find two species of the genus Cistus. Both have large flowers (4-6 cm in diameter). The Sage-leaved Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius) has a white flower with smooth petals and the Hairy Rockrose (Cistus creticus) has a purple flower with wrinkled petals. Both species are common in rocky habitats in Israel’s Mediterranean region.
Come and visit the Garden, see the Gum Rockrose and other Rockrose species blooming in the Mediterranean section!
written by: Yael Orgad, April 2019