The Cistaceae (or rock-rose family, rock rose family) is a rather small family of plants known for its beautiful shrubs, vastly covered by flowers at the time of blossom. This family consists of about 170-200 species in eight genera, distributed primarily in the temperate areas of Europe and the Mediterranean basin, but also found in North America; a limited number of species are found in South America. Most Cistaceae are subshrubs and low shrubs, and some are herbaceous. They prefer dry and sunny habitats. The Cistaceae grow well on poor soils, and many of them are cultivated in gardens.
They often have showy yellow, pink or white flowers, which are generally short-lived. The flowers are bisexual, regular, solitary or borne in cymes; they usually have five, sometimes three, petals (Lechea). The petals are free, usually crumpled in the bud, and sometimes in the open flower (e. g. Cistus incanus). It has five sepals, the inner three of which are distinctly wider, and the outer two are narrow and sometimes regarded as bracteoles. The sepal arrangement is a characteristic property of the family.
The stamens are numerous, of variable length and sit on a disc; filaments are free. The ovary is superior, usually with three carpels; placentation parietal with two or more ovules on each placenta. The fruit is a capsule, usually with five or ten valves (three in Helianthemum). The seeds are small, with hard water-impermeable coating, weighing around 1 mg (Thanos et al., 1992; Heywood, 1993; Hutchinson, 1973; Judd et al., 2002; Mabberley, 1997).
Most Cistaceae have the ability to create symbiotic relationship with root fungi of genus Tuber (Chevalier et al., 1975; Giovannetti and Fontana, 1982). In this relationship, the fungus complements the root system in its task of absorbing water and minerals from the soil, and thus allows the host plant to dwell on particularly poor soils. In addition, an interesting quality of T. melanosporum is its ability to kill all vegetation except the host plant within the reach of its mycelium, and thus to give its host some sort of "exclusiveness" for the adjacent land area (Giovannetti and Fontana, 1982).
Cistaceae have also optimally adapted to the wildfires that frequently eradicate large areas of forest. The plants cast their seeds in the soil during the growth period, but the latter don't germinate right in the next season. Their hard coating is impermeable to the water, and thus the seeds remain dormant for a long period of time. This together with their small size allows it to establish a large seed bank rather deep in the soil. Once the fire comes and kills the vegetation in the area, the seed coating softens or cracks as a result of the heating, and the surviving seeds germinate shortly after the fire. This mechanism allows the Cistaceae to produce a large number of young shoots simultaneously and at the right time, and thus to obtain an important advantage over other plants in the process of repopulating the area (Thanos et al., 1992; Ferrandis et al., 1999).
Some Cistus species, mostly C. ladanifer are used to produce an aromatic resin, used in the perfume industry.
The ability of Cistaceae to create mycorrhizal relation with truffle mushroom (Tuber) prompted several researches about using them as host plants for truffle cultivation. The small size of Cistus shrubs could prove favorable, as they take up less space than traditional hosts such as oak (Quercus) or pine (Pinus), and could thus lead to larger yield per field unit. Hilianthemum nummularium HPUS can be extracted from the Cistus plant. Hilianthemum nummularium is an active ingredient in the stress relieving homeopathic tablets called Rescue Remedy Pastilles.