Wild Flowers - Cistus ladanifer - The Gum Cistus

The Gum Cistus ©Tony Hall
The Gum Cistus - Cistus ladanifer

The Gum Cistus 

The Cistaceae family is a major group of flowering plants in the Mediterranean and includes the genera, Cistus, Fumana, Halimium, Helianthemum and Tuberaria, which vary greatly in plant and flower size and colour and are found throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

Cistus ladanifer is the largest. A woody, evergreen shrub, which can grow up to 4m tall, but is more commonly between 1 and 2m. It has leaves that are linear-lance shaped, dull green above and paler beneath, with short, white hairs. This plant also has the largest flowers of any cistus, usually single and up to 10cm across. The papery, crumpled petals are most commonly pure white, with numerous bright yellow stamens in the centre. There is also a form which has a dark purple or crimson blotch at the base of each petal. This form is more commonly found in the Northern Andalucian provinces, and ladanifer is the only species of cistus to have blotched petals.

During hot summer days the leaves produce a shiny, sticky, aromatic resin, called ladanum, which fills the air with a heady scent. Itis still collected in some parts of the Mediterranean and used as an aromatic in incense and perfumery.In Spanish it is known as ''Jara pringosa'' meaning sticky shrub.

Usually found in large groups, often covering hillsides, in sandy soils, it is intolerant of lime, flowering from March to June.

Spotted form of Cistus ladanifer ©Tony Hall
Spotted form of Cistus ladanifer

Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, specialising in the plants of Andalucía.