Lantana is a member of the verbena plant family, the more common form is Lantana camara . It was described by William Robinson in 1867 when he visited Paris and saw the new sub-tropical plantings fashionable at the time. He loved the shrubby habit combined with the new flower colours used as background to these exotic bedding schemes.
It is a rugged evergreen shrub from the tropics which can grow to 2m high with equal spread. Stems and leaves are covered with rough hairs and have a textured surface. They emit an unpleasant aroma when crushed (can smell like cat pee!). The small flowers are held in clusters giving a jewelled look as the colour is distributed among the foliage. In the tropics lantana is a non-stop bloomer and has become naturalised on the Acores. Here on the Algarve the main flowering season is May to September. Flower colour ranges from white to yellow, orange to red, pink to rose in unlimited combinations, in addition the flowers usually change in colour as they age. It is recommended for use as drought resistant hedging plant which can provide shelter for other plantings. There are more than one hundred Lantana varieties. Choose the sterile lantana varieties and hybrids which are normally offered for sale on the Algarve as these are better behaved than the species – avoid digging any naturalized lantana from the wild for your garden as this is probably the fertile seed bearing species which can quickly become a nuisance if left unchecked, as has happened in neighbouring Andalucia.
Pets can become ill after ingesting lantana. The unripe berries are known to be very toxic and the foliage is toxic to livestock. Lantana is listed as a Category I invasive exotic species in the southern United States, and is a huge problem in Hawaii. The best way to propagate is by cuttings from favourite colour forms. We have used the single colour white and golden yellow flowering varieties to good effect amongst silver and grey leaved plantings.
Another lantana that is also a popular garden plant is the generally smaller weeping or trailing lantana Lantana montevidensis. A lilac/purple flowering shrub which is a low growing trailing species particularly good for overhanging walls and groundcover. This is also recommended for drought resistant plantings and will tolerate slightly lower winter temperatures than the L. camara and it’s hybrids.