Lantana

Lantana is a group of over 150 species in the family Verbenaceae. Lantana camara is the most common species in cultivation. Reading about Lantana, I learned that they are shrubs that can grow up to 6 feet high and 8 feet wide. They bloom constantly, grow wildly, and are actually considered an invasive weed. Oh yeah, that’s in Florida, and other tropical areas. It’s a different story in Michigan. Here, Lantana is an annual, blooming summer and fall. It gets maybe 1-2 feet tall, barely spreads at all, and dies when the frost comes. As in real estate, location makes all the difference.

Lantana camara, also called shrub verbena and Spanish Flag, is native to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. It is now grown all over the world as an ornamental plant as it is easy to grow, tolerates low water conditions and extreme heat. Lantana is bothered by few pests or diseases, does well in containers and even tolerates salt water spray. It can be grown from seed, or from cuttings taken during the summer. Grown in full sun, it blooms all year in tropical areas and is an evergreen shrub. It’s attractive to butterflies and bees.

On the other hand, Lantana is officially an invasive, toxic species in Florida, and is a huge problem in Texas, Hawaii, India, Australia and Africa. After the flowers fade, the plants form little round berries. The birds eat the berries and spread the seeds, making it very difficult to control where it grows. Because the leaves are toxic to most animals, Lantana grows without any interference from livestock. Burning Lantana does not help, as it quickly grows back in the burned areas. In Australia and Hawaii, insects have been introduced, without much success, that are supposed to eat the Lantana plants. Unfortunately, sometimes they eat other plants too. In India, Lantana is forcing out the bamboo traditionally used to make wicker. On the bright side, Lantana branches are thin, but strong and flexible, so now it is being used for wicker and other crafts.

Lantana camara has clusters of flowers, or umbels. The umbels are made up of small florets which change color as they age. This explains why each ring of florets is a different color, they don’t all open at once, but start on the outside and move toward the center. This creates a small rainbow of colors in each cluster.  I’m told that the stems and leaves smell like cat pee, something I have no desire to verify myself. The berries are poisonous when green, but edible to humans when ripe. Where does the poison go? I usually cut off the berries when I see them, which is probably why I’ve never seen birds eating them.

The good news is that Lantana grows fine in Michigan, is not invasive and has beautiful flowers all summer. The bad news is that it will die when the first frost hits. I did try to over-winter a Lantana indoors once, but it did not survive. If you live anywhere but in the tropics, it’s probably easier to treat it as an annual, and buy new plants next year. I think their multicolored flowers are great and have Lantana on my shopping list every spring.

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One Response to “Lantana”

  1. Kem Says:

    Lantana also draws hummingbirds. I had a pot of it on our deck this summer and we would usually get two or three hummingbirds in the evening. It’s an annual here, but from what a woman in my office told me, it is a somewhat controllable perennial in Georgia. I didn’t know the leaves and stems smelled like cat pee. Guess I don’t need to verify that one either!

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