As a favorite plant of South Florida gardeners, lantana’s vibrantly colored blooms can be seen adorning Florida landscapes, even through the brutal heat of a subtropical summer. If you are looking for a plant you never have to water, fertilize, or spray, lantana is the plant for you. Native to the American tropics, lantana can be either annual or perennial, depending on your particular zone. In colder climates, the hardy lantana plants will die back in the winter, and return in the spring. The flower clusters, which can be solid, bi, or tri-colored, resemble miniature nosegays and bloom continually throughout the warm weather months.
Lantanas are Perennials in Warm Locations
The plants are grown as annuals in most of North America. Lantanas are only winter hardy down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. That means they are perennials in California, Florida, and along the Gulf Coast. Most gardeners buy them as potted plants in the spring. Growing them from seeds is possible but takes too long to be convenient for most gardeners.
Lantana Flower colors are yellow, orange, red, white, and lavender. The blooms grow in umbrella-shaped clusters at the end of long stems. Many varieties are multicolored. The stems grow to 14 inches tall and spread more horizontal than vertical, making lantana plants popular for hanging pots and containers. In garden beds, it is usually planted in the front or middle of the bed.
Grow lantana in full sun with at least six full hours of sunlight. The soil should be well-drained and not moist. The plants have profuse flowers though too much water and fertilizer can encourage foliage and reduce blooms. Allow the soil to dry before watering. Removing old blooms encourages lantana to continue to flower. The plant may need occasional trimming if it becomes ungainly looking. In areas where it is grown as a perennial, mulching in winter protects the roots and helps ensure its survival.
Butterflies Love Lantana
As an added bonus Butterflies and bees are strongly attracted to lantana plants. You will not find a flower that is better at attracting these fluttering beauties. They will flit around a bush for hours, sucking up nectar and putting on a spectacular show. I once had native lantana growing around a pine tree that grew 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide. I called it my butterfly bush because it was always hosting one or more species of butterflies.
The leaves and stems, however, have an unpleasant odor when rubbed, and the sap can cause some people to develop minor rashes. Green berries that grow from fertilized flowers are poisonous. Birds eat the berries when they ripen and turn black. Deer, rabbits, and other animals will not eat lantana plants.
Native Lantana Species
Common lantana (Lantana Camara)
The most common lantana plant has the scientific name Lantana Camara, a mound-forming plant with orange, pink, yellow or red flowers. It grows into a shrubby, rounded plant, 4 to 5 feet high. It is sometimes seen in older gardens, or on fence rows in pastures and fields. Listed as a Class 1 invasive plant in Florida, it is not allowed to be sold in garden centers, but you will have no problem finding seeds for one if you really want it. If there is one within a couple of miles of your home, a bird or storm will probably deposit seeds in your yard at some point.
Trailing lantana (L. montevidensis)
Another commonly grown lantana is Lantana montevidenis also called “trailing lantana“, a low growing, and spreading plant. It has thinner stems and a sprawling habit. Its white or purple flowers grow on plants that reach about a foot in height, but whose stems can grow to six feet long. This plant roots wherever nodes touch the ground and have to be watched carefully lest it becomes invasive.
Depressed Shrubverbena (Lantana depressa)
Lantana depressa is an endangered native Florida species that grows in rock pinelands. Natural fire clearing of pinelands is essential to the survival of the species. Fire suppression and clearing of rock pinelands for development have made L. depressa an endangered Florida native plant.
Hybrid Lantanas Come In Many Colors, Shapes, and Sizes
Lantana has been hybridized since the 1800’s, and it seems there is always a new variety available. The hybrid flowers come in a bevy of colors, from gold to red to rainbow colors. Some favorite hybrid Lantana varieties are:
- New Gold – a profuse bloomer with golden yellow flowers and a trailing habit
- Dallas Red (aka Texas Flame) – a mounding plant growing up to 3 feet tall with yellow, orange, and red tri-colored blooms that turn a deep red
- Lemon Swirl (aka Samantha) yellow-edged leaves set this yellow-flowered, seedless variety apart. It grows to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide.
- Patriot Rainbow – a compact plant that grows to about a foot tall and wide with gaudy orange, fuchsia, and yellow tri-colored flowers.
- Landmark Hybrids – These dense, mounding plants grow up to 1-1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide with orange, white, pink, gold, peach or rose-colored blooms. They have a uniform growth that makes them a great plant for borders.
You can see that lantana is a very versatile plant that can find a place in any garden. Add a few to your Florida landscape, watch the butterflies flock to it, and you will soon be a fan of this beautiful and carefree plant.