What are Rock Roses?

Mary McMahon

Rock roses are shrubs in the Cistaceae family. A number of plants in this family are cultivated as ornamentals, especially plants in the genera Helianthemum, Cistus, and Halimium. These shrubs are prized for their tolerance of low water conditions and poor soil, along with their bright, showy flowers. Many garden shops carry rock roses, often in a profusion of shapes, sizes, and colors for gardeners to choose from.

Rock roses can tolerate high amounts of salt from ocean spray.
Rock roses can tolerate high amounts of salt from ocean spray.

Plants in this family share a number of traits, including simple, hairy leaves, widely branching stems, and short-lived showy flowers with petals which are almost like tissue. The shrubs may be low to the ground and sprawling or more bushy and erect, depending on the individual cultivar, and the flowers can be white, pink, yellow, red, or multicolored, again depending on the variety of rockrose being grown. From a distance, a rock rose bush in bloom could be said to resemble a rosebush; perhaps this explains the common name.

These plants are extremely hardy, thriving in poor soils and conditions with low water. They also recover very quickly from fires, and they can tolerate high amounts of salt from ocean spray. These traits make rock roses excellent choices for rough areas of the garden, and they commonly appear in low water gardens because they are decorative and they require minimal watering. In regions where they grow wild, rock roses can quickly take over, because they are able to displace other species with rapid growth and their hardy constitutions.

Wild rock roses can be found in Europe, parts of Africa, North America, and South America. Some of these wild species are also cultivated in gardens, and people have also developed unique hybrids with traits which they find aesthetically pleasing. If you want to grow rock roses in your own garden, be prepared to fight a battle, because they will take over if given any opportunity to do so. It is a good idea to plant rock roses in an area with plenty of space, allowing them to sprawl out and create a rich splash of green foliage and color, and they should be trimmed as they start to encroach on other plants.

It is hard to go wrong when cultivating rock roses. Depending on the species, they are hardy in various USDA zones, typically ranging from around four to eight. They thrive on neglect and abuse, so feel free to plant them in a section of the garden where nothing else will grow. Rock roses do prefer sunny parts of the garden, and in warm weather they will emit a very delicate and distinctive scent which some people find quite enjoyable.

Discussion Comments


Rock roses sound very similar to rose moss. This plant has blooms that are very thin and resemble roses, and it can tolerate really dry conditions.

I actually planted some rose moss at my church, because I knew that the summers get really dry around here, and I would only be able to water the plants once a week. It performed beautifully.

The difference between rock roses and rose moss is that rock roses are shrubs and rose moss just has one main stem that comes from the roots. This stem runs along the ground as the plant spreads, and the fern-like leaves and blooms come off of it.


@sunshined - I understand your approach to gardening! I specifically bought some rock roses to plant on a rocky hillside.

The biggest reasons I bought them was because they didn't require regular watering and I wanted something that would naturally grow and spread.

That was a few years ago, and they have not disappointed me. When all of them are in bloom, they also put off a nice fragrance that you can smell when you walk by.

I know not everyone is fond of rock roses in their yard, but these are the traits I was looking for, and I have been very happy with them.


When you talk about growing plants that thrive on neglect and abuse, that is my style of gardening. I love beautiful flowers, but don't have the time or interest in spending my free time toiling outside in the garden.

If I can plant something that doesn't need much care or water, yet still produces beautiful flowers, that is what I am interested in.

I am thinking I might need to buy a rock rose plant and see how it does. I wouldn't mind it spreading as I don't have much else planted and need some plants to take up some more space.

I admire those people who have such beautifully landscaped yards with flowers blooming all season long. I also know how much work this is, so doubt my yard will ever look this way. Maybe a few rock roses will help.

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