Plant 86

Lantana camara L. (Verbenaceae)


Shrub verbena

The name Lantana is derived from the Latin name of the unrelated wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) which has flowers that look similar to those of Lantana. The genus comprises about 150 species from the Americas and Africa, although one of the most familiar is Lantana camara.

Lantana camara was brought to Europe from tropical America by Dutch explorers, and from these collections it has found its way across the tropics. In some areas it has escaped gardens to become such a problem that control methods have had to be enforced, for example, in Florida it is listed as a Category 1 Invasive Exotic species and it is banned from New Zealand.

To try and limit the spread of Lantana there have been many biological control methods developed, with varying degrees of success, including a defoliating caterpillar, a seed-destroying fly and the lace bug. Conventional herbicides are also used, as well as fire and mechanical methods.

Lantana camara is not a problem everywhere and in many tropical countries selected cultivars are used in parks and gardens. Here, it can make an effective hedge or a specimen shrub, growing to about two metres tall. They can also be kept small by taking cuttings and used in bedding schemes or trained into standards. At Oxford Botanic Garden, Lantana camara is currently growing in the Palm House but it could be grown outside for the summer in a subtropical planting scheme. The normal colour form is bicoloured yellow to orange to red, but there are white, mauve and red forms, as well as variegated ones. Another frequently-grown Lantana species is Lantana montevidensis, which has purple flowers but does not grow as tall as Lantana camara and it can be used as a groundcover plant.

Lantana is not difficult to grow provided it has frost-free conditions and good light to promote flowering. Cuttings are usually taken at the end of the summer in August or September if the plants need to be overwintered under glass. They will also grow from seed, but if taken from a named cultivar, the offspring will not be true. Whitefly can be a problem if grown under glass.

The rough leaves can be mildly irritating and all parts of the plant are toxic if eaten. In their South American homeland they are pollinated by humming birds but in Europe they are often grown as a nectar source in butterfly houses.

Further reading

Llamas KA 2003. Tropical fowering plants. Timber Press Inc.

Huxley A 1999. The New Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Groves Dictionaries Inc.

Philips R and Rix M 1997. Conservatory and indoor plants. Macmillan General Books.

Lucinda Lachelin