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A densely branched shrub attaining a height of 6 ft in the wild; branches erect, scaly, downy and white when young. Leaves narrowly obovate or elliptic, rounded or acute at the apex, tapered at the base, the lower ones shortly stalked, the upper sessile, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. long, 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. wide, white and tomentose on both sides when young, becoming dull grey-green with age, with a permanent coating of scales and stellate hairs. Flowering stems scaly. Cymes sometimes densely arranged in a short panicle-like inflorescence, sometimes more widely spaced along the main axis. Flowers about 11⁄2 in. across; petals yellow, wedge-shaped or inversely heart-shaped, with or without a dark spot on the base; sepals five, the outer two much narrower and shorter than the inner three, scaly and sometimes with simple or stellate hairs also.
H. halimifolium is the most widely distributed of the yellow-flowered species, ranging from Spain and Portugal through Corsica and Sardinia to S.E. Italy and from Morocco to Algeria; it is absent from the mainland of France. The above description covers all the main variations of the species, of which two subspecies are recognised in Flora Europaea:
subsp. halimifolium. – The typical subspecies with the flower-bearing laterals rather widely spaced; sepals scaly but not hairy; petals wedge-shaped. Found throughout the range of the species.
subsp. multiflorum (Dun.) Maire H. multiflorum Dun.; H. halimifolium f. multiflorum (Dun.) Grosser – Not so tall-growing as the typical subspecies. Cymes more densely arranged. Sepals with stellate hairs as well as scales. Petals inversely heart-shaped. Portugal, S.W. Spain, and Morocco.
Grosser also recognises f. lasiocalycinum (Boiss. & Reut.) Grosser, which seems to belong to the typical subspecies, but has simple hairs on the calyx as well as the usual scales. Described from Morocco.
H. halimifolium is believed to be the species listed in the catalogue of Tradesant’s garden as Cistus halimi folio. If so, it would have been in cultivation in the middle of the 17th century. It is not hardy and seems always to have been less common in gardens than the dwarfer species. The subspecies multiflorum, being of more compact habit, would receive more protection from snow and might be hardier than the taller forms.