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Featured Plant

Cistus sp.


Scientific Name: Cistus sp.

Common Names: Rockrose

Family: Cistaceae

Plant Type: Shrub

Environment: Needs excellent drainage and some summer watering the first couple of years; then drought tolerant; full or nearly-full sun

Bloom: Five-petaled flowers in pink and white with a dark spot on the base of each petal

Uses: Great as a part of a habitat planting; will fill in empty spaces well

Other: There are eight genera and roughly 185 species in the Cistaceae family. Unique characteristic for the Cistaceae family: there are five sepals, two of which are smaller than the other three. The common name, rockrose, refers to the similarity of the flower to traditional species roses, combined with the rocky habitat in which they are often found growing



Cistus sp.

A 30-foot hill of ivy in the San Francisco Botanical Garden sat undisturbed for at least 25 years. Named Heidelberg Hill for the 1894 Midwinter Fair, where it was the site of a German village and beer garden, this area has been transformed into a stunning  Mediterranean garden.

In 2008, Jason Martinez, one of San Francisco Botanical Garden's gardeners, studied this valuable and unused space. On his own initiative, he proposed a design for a Mediterranean Garden that would change the hill and its base into one reflective of a rocky and sunlit terrain found along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It took time to accomplish as his design had to be approved, funds acquired and the century-old expanse of ivy had to be removed. The power of a City backhoe was essential in plowing up the entrenched mass of roots. In early 2012, mounds of rich soil from Golden Gate Park Nursery and huge boulders appeared at the foot of the still barren hillside. It became a roped-off area and a mystery to visitors. By December, the sandy hill was covered with black soil, and dozens of natives of the Mediterranean plant community, Maquis. Nestled among the boulders, an evergreen vegetative plant community similar to California's chaparral began to emerge. A border of blue atlas fescue (Festuca mairei) and scarlet poppies, Papaver rhoeas, leads the eye upwards past glorious clumps of snapdragons (Antirrhinum hispanicum), Echium spp., rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.), yarrow (Achillea tomentosa), salvias (Salvia spp.) and rockroses (Cistus spp.) to the summit of the hill.

Over twenty different rockroses in shades of pink and white are scattered throughout the new garden. Rockroses are superb, sun-loving, drought tolerant plants, never needing water once established, though well-drained soil is essential. They open in the morning and drop their petals by mid-afternoon, replaced with new flowers the following day. The five petals are crinkly with golden centers consisting of stamens. Fruits are dry capsules that split open. The single evergreen leaves are often aromatic, rough to the touch, sometimes sticky and tend to curl at the edges. Cistus ladanifer has a fragrant resin in its leaves, called labdanum, and has been used, since antiquity, in the making of perfumes. Rockroses are not roses at all and are in the family Cistaceae, along with helianthemums, also planted in the Mediterranean garden. Cistus, 'kistos' in Greek, means 'rocky places', which is a great description of their native habitat and the one recreated here at the Garden.

To quote Jason, "This garden is a living symbol of the cooperation between San Francsico Recreation and Parks Department and the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society."

Text by Kathy McNeil. Photos by Joanne Taylor. Profile by David Kruse-Pickler.


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