Cistaceae is endemic to Portugal, and one branch of the family – cistus – thanks to its ability to cope with long hot dry spells, cold winters and forest fires it is to be found everywhere. In spring and early summer cistus is a delight on the senses; thanks to its mostly paper white flowers covering the hills and the labdanum fragrance filling the air. What I hadn’t realised until a year or so ago is just how many species of cistus there are in Portugal.
The most common one we’ve seen is cistus ladanifer; known as Gum Rock Rose in English and ládano or roselha-branca in Portuguese. It is unmistakable with its markings, sometimes it is like the hills are alive with smiling faces. Be careful though this is not a plant to brush up closely to or touch. It isn’t poisonous but if you get too close you will discover, if you haven’t already from the name, there is a very sticky brown resin creating the aroma!
This resin is in fact what they use in some perfumes and other scented products. It is a very sweet smell, which many describe as being like the scent of ambergris.
The other cistus one we seem to see quite a bit, if the number of photographs is anything to go by, is what the Portuguese call sargaço-escuro. The common English name is narrow leaved rock rose, and it is not difficult to work out why it has this name!
The scientific name is cistus monspeliensis, and one of my references guides indicates monspeliensis is quite similar to another cistus – cistus psilosepalus. However the leaves look completely different to me when I searched online plus I am not 100% sure how common psilosepalus is in the Algarve. The reference guides give differing views! So I am going to presume that all of the following are cistus monspeliensis.
One I have no problems identifying is the grey-leaved rock rose and its flowers are all pink and of the leaves, as you may have gathered by its name, are grey! The scientific name is cistus albidus and its Portuguese common name is roselha.
There is another pink cistus – cistus crispus but I don’t think I have photographed this one as none of the leaves in my pink cistus shots look hairy or wavy enough!
Another one that is relatively easy to identify is cistus salvifolius, thanks to its distinctive sage look alike leaves. Its English common name is in fact sage-leaved rock rose, and its Portuguese sanganho-mouro or sargaço-mouro. It is this one you will often find in the sand dunes as well as on the matos.
Well I thought the salviifolius was easy to identify but then I found these photographs. Both plants seem too big to be the sage-leaved rock rose, as I recall they were was well over 30cm in height however there is no other cistus with leaves quite like this. So I am somewhat confused! One option is they are a hybrid, as apparently it is common for this salviifolius to create hybrid plants with cistus populifolius. The latter leaves are quite different but the plants are taller, so maybe . . . . . . . .
As you will have already determined from my brief mention of hybrids and one or two other cistus this is not a definitive gallery of Portuguese cistus. Hopefully though my post is a useful starting point.
For a complete pictorial list check out this link where you will discover a subspecies of the ladanifer called sulcatus, as well as cistus laurifolius, cistus libanotis and cistus palhinhae in Portugal. By the way if you spot the latter and sulcatus do let me know as they are particularly uncommon, and I would love one day to add them to my cistus gallery.
Before you dart off to commence your own cistus adventure, can I share with you another member of the cistaceae family – an annual rock rose. They are also to be found throughout Portugal, and when you see them together you can see their familial relationship. This floral adventure may go on a while!
PS if you are after more floral identification websites check out the summary I put together a while ago.