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What is Helianthemum?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree

Helianthemum is a genus of plants that includes around 110 species of evergreen and semi-evergreen shrubs belonging to the Cistaceae family. Also known as rock rose, sunrose, and rushrose, Helianthemum can be found in America, Europe, and northern Africa. The Mediterranean region, however, is considered its center of diversity.

These plants are often cultivated as garden landscaping plants. A majority of plants in this genus that are used in gardens tend to be hybrids of the H. Apenninum and H. Nummularium species. H. Apenninum is endemic in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia Minor, while H. Nummularium species are usually found in Armenia and the Caucasus and Atlas Mountains.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The leaves of these plants are like two ovals, around 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length and 1 inch (2 cm) in width, placed opposite each other. These plants are normally glossy green to grey-green in color. Helianthemum’s flowers also span around 1 to 1.5 inches (2 to 4 cm) in diameter. They have five petals that are usually white or yellow. In some species, the petals are a bit pinkish, while in other species the inner center is usually bright yellow to attract pollinating insects. On the other hand, cultivars are able to produce a broader range of color, from salmon pink to dark red.

As a member of the food chain, the species of this genus are fed on by the larvae of Lepidopteras, more particularly, the large grizzled skipper. Other organisms that feed on some species of Helianthemum are Coleophora case-bearers and Bucculatricid leaf-miners, which feed only on the species Helianthemum sessiliflorum. Bucculatricid leaf-miners, Coleophor case-bearers, and the large grizzled skipper all belong to the moth family.

Many species of Helianthemum, including hybrids, are grown as ornamental plants and are often used in rock gardens as edging plants. Landscape artists often consider their bright colors when placing them on sunny banks and borders during May and early June. They can also be used as ground cover because of their matting habit and evergreen nature. Some people also use sunroses as wall draping or let the plant creep around small rocks.

Landscape artists and gardening enthusiasts tend to find these plants low maintenance. They are sun-loving and do not require too much watering. This is because they naturally grow in sunny rockeries and dry lands. Most plants that belong in this genus favor full sun exposure and well-drained soil or limestone. They can tolerate the fiercest of droughts, even producing more flowers in hotter climates.

Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - To me, it's not about whether it looks like it fits into the surrounding landscape. I want to go into my garden and feel transported. But, I'm also very busy during the day and I don't want to have to spend a lot of time struggling with the garden, trying to make it work the way I want.

Plants like helianthemum are going to grow without much help if you plant them in the right place. If anything you might need to trim them back a bit. Now, if you live in a temperate, or cold place with lots of rainfall, don't pick this flower, because it will need lots of care to grow. But if you're in the right conditions, all you really need to do is plant it and you're fine.


@bythewell - Helianthemum species are particularly good if you've got rocky ground around your house and you're hoping to turn it into a rockery.

I actually think it's kind of sad when people try to force their gardens to be something the surrounding landscape isn't. Whether that is using a lot of water, or planting a lot of foreign species, it just jars with the surrounding landscape and doesn't work.

You can use appropriate species and still have all the colors and textures you want. Helianthemum fire dragon, for example, is an extremely vibrant red color, and might work much better than trying to cultivate a red rose in a similar area.


These are a good plant if you're trying for a dry garden, which I think most people should do if they are in certain parts of the world.

If you're in an area without much rainfall, or where there isn't much natural water, it only makes sense to try and keep your garden as dry as possible (meaning that it uses very little water). Lawns and lush flower gardens use a horrendous amount of water every year, much of which cannot be restored to the water table it was taken from. There are places in the States where towns have suffered from sink holes because they have drawn too much water from the ground and a lot of that water would have gone to feed their water-hungry lawns.

If you plant these rock roses and other species like echinacea purpurea and succulents, you won't have to use a lot of water, but your garden will be just as lovely.

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