Thursday, June 6, 2013

A rose that loves the sun

Mediterranean sun-rose Fumana arabica
The Mediterranean sun-rose is an indigenous yellow-flowered plant that is at its best in April and early May. In Maltese it is known as ċistu isfar.

It grows in garigue, the rocky arid habitat common in some parts of Malta. It shares this habitat with three other indigenous closely related members of the Cistus family.

The cistuses are also known as rock roses. The family consists of about twenty species many of which are found in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea as well as in Portugal and the Canary Islands. Most species are yellow, pink or white.
The rock roses are very well adapted to survive in poor soils and dry conditions where many other species would not survive for long. They are also able to survive in areas which are susceptible to fires and they can take over a burnt site before other species of plants can make a foothold.
Nowadays cistuses can be found in gardens well outside their natural range and garden enthusiasts have created several varieties and cultivars.

The thyme-leaved sun-rose (ċistu żgħir), another indigenous species, has similar but smaller flowers and narrow leaves that resemble those of thyme.

Two other two related species are the narrow-leaved rockrose, known in Maltese as ċistu abjad, and the hoary rockrose known as ċistu roża. These species are larger with large beautiful flowers. They are not common and in fact in the Maltese islands the narrow leaved rockrose is restricted to two sites; one in Malta and another in Gozo.

The leaves of some species of rockroses, including the hoary rockrose, produce an aromatic substance which was used in medicine and which is still used in the production of perfumes. Up to the 18th Century in Crete an instrument shaped like a rake but with leather thongs instead of teeth was passed over the cistus plants to collect  the resin. In ancient times the gum was collected from the beards and thighs of goats and sheep that had been grazing among the cistus plants. 

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