The Cistus Ladanifer plant


The rockrose (Cistus Ladanifer) is a flowering plant from the family of the Cistaceae. This sticky shrub grows up to 2,5 meters and can be found all over the western Mediterranean area. It is very common in Portugal, especially in the southern regions of Alentejo and Algarve, where patches of rockrose communities cover large areas of the countryside. 

In the Algarve in particular, there is a subspecies of Cistus Ladanifer called Sulcatus. Sulcatus can be found very close to the coast and is much smaller with leaves closer to the ground. The flowers of Cistus Ladanifer Sulcatus are also usually without dots.

Cistus Ladanifer in Portugal

Here in the southwest of Portugal, the Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus), Wild Lavender (Lavandula Stoechas), Cistus Ladanifer and many other plants form a flora that gives our region a very special scent. There are many names in Portugal for the Cistus Ladanifer plant but it is mostly known by its common name: Esteva. Cistus Ladanifer plants can adapt to poor soils and don’t need much water, making them perfectly suited to our regions arid climate.

Older cistus plants can grow quite tall and together with other plants such as the strawberry tree (Arbutus Unedo) and the cork oak (Quercus Suber), they create a protective landscape that covers many hills. In this landscape, indigenous animals thrive. The wild boar, Egyptian mongoose, many birds and even very small populations of the Iberian Lynx are just some of the many animals one can expect to find here.

Interesting facts about Cistus Ladanifer


The Algarve region in Portugal is subject to many wildfires. However, Cistus Ladanifer is one of the first species to emerge after the fires have been extinguished. The reason for this is that the seeds of the Cistus Ladanifer plant are contained in a lignified round pod with several smaller compartments (usually between 7 and 10).


Some theorise that these compartments are probably behind the origin of its name, as the Greek word “kístē” actually means “box”. The Cistus Ladanifer plant is an angiosperm, which is also a Greek in origin and is used to classify all plants that produce seeds in a pod.


Each Cistus Ladanifer pod can hold between approximately 300 and 1,000 seeds. In the summertime, these pods open and the seeds disperse, thus initiating a new generation of Cistus Ladanifer plants. Cistus Ladanifer plants flower in springtime (between May and June). Coincidentally, this is also the best time to visit the Algarve. During this time of the year, the rural landscape is littered with the white flower of the Cistus Ladanifer plant, making it incredibly beautiful. So beautiful in fact that in many countries where it is not native, Cistus Ladanifer is used as an ornamental plant.


Blooming only for a short time, the Cistus Ladanifer flowers are very delicate. They are a bright white colour and exhibit five brown/red dots, one on each of the petals. In the centre of the flower are the stamen and pistil, otherwise known as the male and female sex organ of the flower respectively. In the case of Cistus Ladanifer, both of these organs are yellow in colour. Being a country with a long Christian/Catholic tradition, it’s no wonder that popular culture has associated the dots on the Cistus Ladanifer flower with the five wounds of Jesus Christ.


Last but certainly not least, a few words about the leaves. These are of a dark green colour, lanceolated (meaning in the form of the head of a spear) and opposing. Cistus Ladanifer has leaves all year long which produce a resin that’s very sticky. The resin of Cistus Ladanifer protects the plant against its natural enemies, with the plant producing more resin in the summer. It’s this resin, which also covers many of the smaller upper branches, that makes Cistus Ladanifer so interesting for us as humans. Read about the harvest in the next article.