Cistus varieties: 11 sunroses to brighten your plot

Our top cistus varieties are perfect for adding summer color to hot, dry and well-drained borders and pots

A mass of cistus plants with pink flowers and yellow centers
(Image credit: Getty Images/Alphographic)

There are so many cistus varieties available that it's easy to find the right one for adding color to your summer planting scheme. And as summers become warmer and we need to conserve water, these plants are also ideal for the hot, dry conditions that many of us are increasingly experiencing. 

Drought tolerant plants are a big part of the gardener’s approach to this problem and sunroses, also know as cistus, are one of the best options. The common name gives it away, sunrose. 

Like wild roses, the flowers have five colorful petals surrounding a golden center. But sunroses are evergreen, often with aromatic foliage, and are neater in growth than roses. They have no thorns and insist on hot, dry and well-drained conditions. They hate shade and wet soil. Only the flowers are similar. They open in early and midsummer and while each flower lasts only a day they come in great profusion.

In general, sunroses prefer mild winters and are generally hardy to USDA Zone 7 or 8. Wild sunroses grow naturally in southern Europe, making them ideal for incorporating into the design and planting schemes of Mediterranean gardens. 

They are adapted to grow in other areas with similar climates featuring mild, relatively wet winters and hot, dry summers. They are happy in coastal California and many other parts of the west and south. They do well in desert heat, are happy near the coast and some are deer resistant too.

11 cistus varieties to add to your garden

'Cistus make up a diverse group ranging from dwarf plants only a foot tall, to some that exceed seven feet in height,' says Neil Bell, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service (opens in new tab). 'The habit varies from flat and spreading, to mounding, and, in a few cases, upright. 

'Like other Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary or lavender, the foliage is often aromatic, a characteristic that is particularly noticeable on warm days and makes the plants appealing even when not in flower.'

Whether you're looking for a good option to include in your Mediterranean garden ideas or need a drought-resistant option, our edit of the top cistus varieties has plenty to choose from. 

1. Cistus 'Alan Fradd'

papery white flowers of Cistus 'Alan Fradd'

'Alan Fradd' is a small variety of cistus with attractive red stems

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photos/Steven May)
  • Hardiness: USDA 8 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 4x4ft (1.2x1.2m)

This small shrub with red stems and dark green, wavy-edged foliage features large, pure white flowers up to 3in (7.5cm) across, each with a bold maroon blotch at the base, over an unusually long period through summer. It's unique in sometimes producing flowers with rosy red streaks.

For a great planting combination, Digging Dog Nursery (opens in new tab) say: 'Can be associated with Perovskia abrotanoides and Eryngium ‘Blaukappe’ for an arresting union.'

2. Cistus ‘Decumbens’ AGM

The white flowers of spreading cistus Decumbens

Cistus 'Decumbens' AGM is a growing, spreading variety

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photos/Philip Bird)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 2x4ft (60cmx1.2m) 

Cistus are considered to be one of the best coastal plants. This low and spreading variety, usually reaching twice as wide as high, has narrow, dark green, rather sticky foliage and 2in (5cm) white flowers, boldly marked in crimson at the base.

According to Bean's Trees and Shrubs, this is 'one of the élite of cistuses', and it's also hardy in the British Isles. 

For a good contrast in your planting scheme, team with the upright growth of ‘Blue Arrow’ juniper or other pencil-shaped evergreens.

3. Cistus ladanifer

White flowers of Cistus ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer is a tall variety

(Image credit: Agsaz/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA Z8 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 6x3ft (1.8x90cm)

If you're looking for good deer-resistant plants, this is probably the most deer-resistant sunrose of all, owing to the sticky foliage that is rich in essential oils. It is grown commercially for perfume.

This tall sunrose makes an impressive specimen, with its unusually long, sticky dark green leaves that are felted in grey backing large and 3-4in (7.5-10cm) white flowers, each with a blood red mark at the base, that are crinkled at the edges.

When planning your garden border planting ideas, consider combining it with the bold, bluish foliage of Melianthus major.

4. Cistus ‘Maculatus' AGM

Clustered white flowers of Cistus Maculatus AGM

Cistus 'Maculatus' AGM is a vigorous variety of sunrose

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4). 
  • Height and spread: 6x4ft (1.8x1.2m) 

A vigorous variety, soon reaching its mature height, with slender bright green foliage, rippled at the edges, with very large, 3.5in (8.5cm) bright white flowers featuring a ring of neatly triangular crimson marks at the base.

This variety is recommended for firescaping, and tolerates pruning even less than other cistus.

Hardy ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) makes a good companion if you're after a ground cover plant that is also fire-resistant.

5. Cistus x purpureus AGM

Vivid pink flowers of cistus purpureus AGM

Cistus purpureus AGM has rosy petals and a central golden boss

(Image credit: James Allan/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 8 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 4x4ft (1.2x1.2m)

This small cistus has reddish stems that look good with the dark, wavy-edged foliage. The prettily crinkled, 2-3in (5-7cm) flowers are rich rosy red, each petal with a bold maroon mark at the base.

This is a neat cistus for small gardens, the similar variety ‘Betty Taudevin’ is sometimes said to be hardier. 

The silvery foliage of artemisias makes a pretty companion.

6. Cistus ‘Snow Fire' AGM

Lots of white flowers of cistus Snow Fire AGM

The flowers of cistus 'Snow Fire' AGM are offset by brilliant green leaves

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 2x4ft (60cmx1.2m)

Developing into a plant at least twice as wide as high, the wavy-edged bright green leaves show off large, 2.5in (6cm), evenly flat, pure white overlapping petals, each with a basal blotch in brighter red than in most cistus.

Relatively hardy, it also responds unexpectedly well to pruning. Scarlet penstemon varieties will pick up the red markings in the flowers.

7. Cistus x cyprius AGM

Cistus x cyprius AGM is a hardy, bushy variety

Cistus x cyprius AGM is a hardy, bushy variety with lots of flowers and a faint pine scent

(Image credit: Natural Garden Images/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height: 5x5ft (1.3x1.3m)

Tough, bushy plants feature 2-3in (5-8cm) pure white flowers marked with crimson blotches faintly golden at the base, set against slender, very sticky, dark green, glossy leaves that are silvered beneath and give off a strange, slightly pine-like aroma.

This is one of the cistus varieties that does better than most in wet and humid summers, plus it's one of the more deer-resistant sunroses. 

For a good planting partner, this variety looks pretty with the dark leaves and blue flowers of purple-leaved sage, Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’.

8. Cistus ‘Silver Pink’

The cupped pale pink flowers of Cistus Silver Pink

Cistus 'Silver Pink' produces a profusion of cupped pink flowers

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 3x3ft (90x90cm)

Cupped, rather than the usual saucer-shaped, flowers are an unusual slightly apricot pink with white centers, and produced in huge quantities. The leaves are dark green, silver below.

Perhaps the hardiest of all cistus, sometimes flowering so prolifically that the plants exhaust themselves.

Rosemary, including ‘Miss Jessop’s Upright’, makes a good companion with its similar foliage and blue flowers in spring.

9. Cistus ‘Grayswood Pink’ AGM

Pink and white flowers of cistus Grayswood Pink AGM

'Grayswood Pink' AGM has pretty pink flowers offset by grey leaves

(Image credit: John Richmond/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 18ix18in (45x45cm)

A low and widely spreading shrub, the misty greyish-green leaves make an ideal backing for the 2-3in (5-7.5cm) soft pink flowers with their white centers behind the golden flurry of anthers.

This is one of the hardiest cistus varieties of all, the low and spreading stems sometimes root into the soil below.

The leaf color in the yellow-variegated sage Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’ picks up the yellow in the crown of stamens, making this an attractive planting combination. 

10. Cistus ‘Jester’ AGM

Pink flowers and grey leaves of cistus Jester

Cistus 'Jester' is a neat and pink-flowered variety

(Image credit: thrillerfillerspiller/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 8 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 3x3ft (90x90cm)

This usefully neat and compact type of cistus has slender, grayish-green foliage with pretty waved edges and 1.5in (4cm) rich rosy pink flowers that shade to white at the base of the petals.

This grows more strongly than ‘Grayswood Pink’ and is tighter in growth than the popular but outdated ‘Peggy Sammons’. 

To take over from the cistus as summer advances, plant Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink' alongside it. 

11. Cistus ‘Sunset' AGM

Magenta flowers of cistus Sunset

Cistus 'Sunset' AGM is a dwarf variety with deep pink fowers

(Image credit: Martin Hughes-Jones/Alamy Stock Photo)
  • Hardiness: USDA 7 (UK H4)
  • Height and spread: 16inx3ft (40x90cm)

Dwarf widely spreading plant with 2in (5cm) flowers in a very rich pink variously described as 'deep magenta pink' and 'sunset pink' – all set off by sage green, way-edged leaves.

This cistus variety is usually deer resistant and also a good firescaping plant. 

Dwarf agastaches such as ‘Kudos Coral’ or ‘Kudos Ambrosia’ enjoy similar conditions and will harmonize well.

What conditions are best for cistus plants?

Sunroses are usually best planted in spring, but unlike most shrubs, no garden compost or other organic soil improver, and no fertilizer, should be used when planting.

They need well-drained soil types in a site that is open to the sun all day and are especially good for sunny slopes, raised garden beds, gravel beds, xeriscape plantings and in firescaping. They appreciate poor, dry, stony soils and will grow well in both acid and limey conditions.

Cistus can also be grown in pots, so add them to your container gardening ideas for summer, but they dislike regular potting soils which are designed to retain moisture. The drainage will need to be improved significantly by the addition of grit.

Are all cistus varieties deer-proof?

Generally speaking, cistus are deer resistant because many have leaves that exude a sticky gum and are also strongly aromatic – which the deer hate. But some are more deer resistant than others.

If deer are a problem for you, try ‘Elma’ (white), ‘Sunset’ (rich pink), or Cistus ladanifer (white, with red blotches) which is so aromatic that it is used as an ingredient in perfume.

Are any varieties of cistus considered to be invasive?

Cistus are occasionally found in wild places in California (as well as in Australia and South Africa), the seeds having spread from gardens or farms. 

Cistus ladanifer is the plant most usually seen, but it has not been cited as a problem in terms of being an invasive plant.

Where to buy cistus plants

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Graham Rice
Graham Rice

Graham Rice is a garden writer who has won awards for his work online, and in books and magazines, on both sides of the Atlantic. He is a member of a number of Royal Horticultural Society committees and the recipient of the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.