Cotton Lavender - Santolina chamaecyparissus
by Tony Hall
A small and compact evergreen aromatic shrub to around 50cm, with a woody base, found in many of the provinces of Andalucia and across Spain, Santolina chamaecyparissus is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.
This attractive plant produces many long, wiry, stems with small, downy, alternate, deeply lobed leaves along their length. This gives the whole plant a silvery-grey-green appearance. Each of the stems terminates in a small, solitary, button-like bright-yellow, or sometimes cream-coloured flower, surrounded by downy bracts.
This is a plant that likes to be out in full sun and its very drought tolerant. The small leaves and foliage colour help. The small leaf surface reduces evotranspriration and the greyish colour reflects some of the suns energy.
There is a sub species, Santolina chamaecyparissus subsp. squarrosa that has paler flowers and hairless flower bracts.
It flowers from June to August in dry rocky habitats in mountains and lowlands.
Santolina is a plant that has been cultivated in the UK as far back as the 16th century and being a very popular garden plant, many cultivars have been produced.
Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, specialising in the plants of Andalucía.