Santolina chamaecyparissus (Lavender Cotton)


Arabic name: شيح

Lavender Cotton (Santonlina chamaecyparissus) belongs to a genus of evergreen, summer-flowering shrubs.  It is a low-mounding perennial with a distinctive blue-gray color and unusual texture.  Lavender Cotton is grown for its aromatic foliage and button-like flower heads, each on a long stem, appearing in summer. In its native western Mediterranean, the flowers are dried and used to make manzanilla  or ‘chamomile’ tea.  This is much stronger and bitterer than real chamomile tea, which is made from the dried white daisy heads of Chamaemeleum nobile.

Santolina is an evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 0.3m, with a spread of 0.4m.  It is fast growing, taking six months to one year to reach its mature size.  Flowers bloom in early summer, from May to June.

Requirements: Grows in full sun, and requires not too rich, but well-drained soil. Works well in western and southern exposures.

Water usage: low watering (twice a month).

Appearance: A rounded dense shrub with soft fragrant, fine-textured, sliver-gray foliage.  Shoots are covered in woolly, white growth, and narrowly-oblong, finely-toothed, crinkled leaves are also covered in white growth.  Its soft gray leaves give it its name, Lavender Cotton.  If unsheared, bright round yellow button-like flower heads are borne in summer.

Notes on use: A groundcover grown for its silver foliage and yellow flowers, in low clumping mounds.  It is often sheared to make an edging or a formal specimen.  Can also be used in mass planting, spaced 60 – 90cm apart.  Keep the leaves clipped for formal gardens, edgings, or clusters, or let the flowers emerge for extra color in an informal garden.

Sprigs can be cut and used for flower arrangements.  They also can dried and used in herb wreaths and potpourri.

Propagation: Propagate by seeds and cuttings in summer.

Maintenance:  After flowering, trim gray, finely toothed foliage for compactness.  The dense compact form can be maintained by shearing the leaves.  Cut off old flower heads and reduce long shoots in autumn.  Prune every year in early spring, before new growth starts, cutting the old stems back halfway to the ground to prevent woody growth.
Although the Santolina covers the ground well, and makes a good foil for other plants, it needs replacing every five years or so.

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This article is part of a series of articles prepared by the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) on water conserving landscapes.  

For additional information on water conserving gardens, visit the CSBE web site at

Support for the CSBE project on water conserving landscapes is provided by WEPIA (Water Efficiency and Public Information for Action), a program being implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).