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Cistus incanus, or pink rock rose, is a low-growing flowering shrub with pink flowers that belongs to the family Cistaceae. It is sometimes known as Cistus creticus. Pink rock rose has other names in various regions of the world, including rock rose, hairy rock rose, and soft-hairy rock rose. It is native to southern Europe and the area around the eastern Mediterranean but has been transplanted to and naturalized in other areas of the world, such as California in the United States.
This plant and at least one other closely related species have been prized since ancient times as the source of the substance labdanum, also known as ladanum. This sticky resin, derived from the sap of Cistus incanus has been used for centuries as an ingredient in perfumes and incense. Today, it is still a popular and important component of many perfumes, scented soaps and bath products, and flavorings for candies and other foods.
Ancient peoples used a unique method for collecting the resin from these plants. Goats were allowed to graze among the Cistus incanus shrubs, and the resin would adhere to the hair of their coats, which was then shorn and boiled. The resin, which is not soluble in water, would eventually rise to the surface and would be skimmed off for later use. This complex and time-consuming process made labdanum a rare and highly prized commodity among ancient peoples. Today, modern techniques have made this process much more efficient.
Gardeners and landscapers favor the pink rock rose for its beauty and toughness. Cistus incanus is known for its ability to thrive in poor soils and in dry conditions. Its roots are known for being very resistant to fire, and it is often one of the first plants to sprout anew after fire destroys the vegetation in an area where it grows. It prefers uncultivated soils and does not require much water.
Pink rock rose flowers have five petals surrounding a center of bright yellow. The petals, which may range in color from deep pink to pale pink, purple or even white are usually wrinkled in appearance. Its foliage, traditionally used to make tea in some regions of Greece, is often described as hairy or fuzzy and is covered with fine, soft hairs.
Cistus incanus makes a good ground cover, as it will gradually form a thick, lush layer that bears pink flowers in great numbers in the spring. As an evergreen, its attractive foliage can be enjoyed year-round. It will not tolerate extreme cold and only grows in areas where winter temperatures do not drop below 10 Fahrenheit (about -12 Celsius).