Interesting Plant: Leonotis leonurus

Leonotis leonurus

We started seeing this plant a lot on our neighborhood as many homeowners took advantage of stipends to convert their lawns to waterwise garden planting. It seems to do quite well and makes a dramatic statement in any garden. The color, and it’s large stature make it stand out against almost anything else in the garden. As we convert our own garden to more waterwise plants, I will certainly be looking at it as a candidate for the sunnier front garden.

Interesting Plant: Leonotis leonurus

Photos: Douglas E. Welch

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Leonotis leonurus, also known as lion’s tail and wild dagga, is a plant species in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. The plant is a broadleaf evergreen large shrub native to South Africa and southern Africa, where it is very common.[2] It is known for its medicinal and mild psychoactive properties. The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is leonurine. The name ‘wild dagga’ links it closely to cannabis as ‘dagga’ derived from the Khoikhoi ‘dachab’ is an indigenous South African name for cannabis species.[3]

The shrub grows 3 to 6 ft (1 to 2 m) tall by 1.5 to 3.5 feet (0.46 to 1.07 m) wide.[2] The medium-dark green 2–4 inches (5.1–10.2 cm) long leaves are aromatic when crushed. The plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, typical to the mint family, that encircle the square stems. They rise above the foliage mass during the summer season, with flowering continuing into winter in warmer climates.[2][4]

Variation in flower color[edit]

A white variety (known colloquially as ‘Alba’) and a yellow variety also exist.

Ecology[edit]

In its native habitats Leonotis leonurus attracts nectivorous birds (mainly sunbirds), as well as various insects such as butterflies. The flowers’ mainly orange to orange-red colour and tubular shape are indicative of its co-evolution with African sunbirds, which have curved bills suited to feeding from tubular flowers. — Wikipedia

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Previously in the Interesting Plant series: 

Interesting Plant is a series from A Gardener’s Notebook blog and podcast that highlights the most interesting plants I find in my Internet and real-world travels — Douglas

Leonotis leonurus

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