Cistus : Heaven-Scent from the Desert

Cistus likes to sneak up on you. For months after my arrival in California, I wondered about that intriguingly dry, woody perfume that seemed to be strongest in the less pampered areas of the neighborhood. I came to love the smell before I ever saw the plant in bloom; I had assumed it was some scraggly little weed, or even dry-rotting wood. The combination of the bright flowers and the exotic aroma were simply irresistible. When I acquired my own specimen, I was in for another sweet surprise: the buds squatted innocently at the ends of the stems for several days without showing any sign of color or growth, then suddenly flung wide five half-dollar-sized petals with theatrical flair, curling them in slightly as evening approached.
A very nice thing about cistus' scent is that you can enjoy it all year whether the plant is in bloom or not. The leaves exude the oleoresin responsible for the fragrance. This hybrid's parents have been used since ancient times in perfumery, ladanum being the modern substitute for the sperm whale's ambergris.

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