Lantanas for the Modern Landscape
Lantana, of the vervain family Verbenaceae, consists of more than 150 species of shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Lantanas are hairy and often prickly–stemmed. If rubbed and bruised their leaves usually have a disagreeable odor. Verbena–like flowers are formed in stalked clusters or spikes from the leaf axils or at the ends of branches. The juicy, berry–like fruits contain two nutlets, often called seeds. In some regions, Texas included, lantanas are troublesome weeds, chiefly spread by birds that are very fond of their juicy fruits. The species name, horrida, refers to the pungent, unpleasant odor of the crushed leaves and the “out–of–control” weed potential of the plant.
European interest in New World lantanas was first excited by their reputed medicinal virtues. Spanish colonists used the camaras, as they called them, to make infusions to be taken as medicine and used in baths. In some places such infusions are still used medicinally. The plant is poisonous to cattle and sheep, though usually not browsed by them. A decoction of the leaves has been used in Mexico… as a tonic for the stomach. In Sinaloa the plant is a favorite remedy for snake bites. A strong decoction of the leaves is taken internally and a poultice of crushed leaves applied to the wound.
Lantana has been improved in its usefulness as a bedding plant largely through the efforts of French hybridizers. The older varieties are tall and lanky, later in coming into bloom, and drop their flowers after rains but are showy in hot, dry weather. The new varieties are dwarf, spreading and bushy in habit, early blooming and free–flowering with blooms which are much larger and do not drop from the plants as did the old varieties in bad weather.
The ABSOLUTELY BEST improvement which has been made is sterilization. A new variety named ‘New Gold’ blooms profusely but seldom forms berries which have to be removed before more bloom will be produced. This revolutionary new development in lantanas insures that this plant will be a continuous beauty rather than a virulent pest with its unwelcomed seedling offspring. But you MUST insist on the ‘New Gold’ variety; all other lantana varieties exhibit the characteristics which lead botanists to label them with the highly unfavorable specie name of horrida.
The lantana is a plant which is very adapted to this area provided they are grown in a sunny location. When well established the plants are very drought tolerant, and continue to produce bright and attractive blooms in the hottest of weather. Now that this variety named ‘New Gold’ is available and won’t contaminate local landscapes, the lantana can take its place as a useful, colorful native plant which everyone will want to plant and enjoy.