Thursday, June 19, 2014

My favorite plant this week: Leonotis leonurus

One of the best things about the weekly favorites posts sponsored by Loree at danger garden is that they encourage a closer examination of what I have growing in my garden.  My favorite plant this week, Leonotis leonurus, came with the garden.  Frankly, it looked pretty scraggly when we took possession of the property and I seriously considered pulling it out.  Having limited knowledge of the plant, I cut it back lightly but was unimpressed by the results.  I cut it back harder last fall and, while it's still a bit spindly in the middle, it's looking pretty good this year.

Leonotis leonaurus in my backyard border

This photograph shows the shrub's bare mid-section



There are signs of new growth at ground level.  I'll cut it back hard again this year in the interest of beefing it up further.

New growth at ground level



My plant sits at the point at which our back border slopes downward.  The drainage is good but water retention is not so the plant's drought tolerance is an advantage in this setting.  The plant is said to grow 4-6 feet (1.2-2m) tall and almost as wide.  Mine is close to that tall but much narrower.  Like other plants in the mint family, the foliage is aromatic when crushed.  The evergreen foliage is attractive but it's the flowers that draw the eye.  The deep orange tubular blooms are fuzzy and arranged in tiered whorls around a square stem.  They're very Dr. Seuss-ish.





I know the plant by the common name of Lion's Tail but, in researching it on-line, I discovered that it has many names, including Lion's Ear, Lion's Claw, Minaret Flower, and Wild Dagga.  I also learned that it has medicinal and mild psychoactive properties.  Leourine is used to treat respiratory tract infections caused by streptococcus, and bone and skin infections, among other things.  I can't claim any personal knowledge of its psychoactive features but smoking the dried leaves and flowers is said to have a mild calming effect.  It also reportedly has an unpleasant taste that can numb the mouth and irritate lungs and throat.

San Marcos Growers rates it as hardy to 20-25F (to -6.7C); however, it has been known to come back from the roots in areas with colder winters, where it can be been treated as a perennial rather than an evergreen shrub.  There are over 40 comments on the plant on the Dave's Garden site, the vast majority of which are positive.

Leonotis leonurus is my contribution to Loree's collection of favorite plants at danger garden.  Click here to see her favorite of the week and to find the selections of other contributing gardeners.




17 comments:

  1. Three things I gotta say.... 1. Lion's (substitute you own choice of body part here, mine would be tail) has never been my favorite plant because of what I thought were dirty orange flowers, but your photos make them look fantastic, clean, bright and cheerful. 2. You've come a really long way in two years of intensive gardening on this spot so different from your old place. Very impressive. 3. I love reading garden blogs like this one and the memes like Favorite Plant of the Week ... they are so full of optimism and very inspiring ... and make your think about your own garden in different ways.

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    1. That's very nice of you to say, Jane! I wasn't a Lion's Tail enthusiast either but I've developed an appreciation for the plant - in full flower, it's adding a punch to the back border.

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  2. It looks like it's covered in Cheetos. :o) Very cool plant! I have a bunch of pink trumpet and Fred Meyer White lilies that always put out foliage for me but never bloom because our winters are too cold. Do you want them? I think they'd grow well for you. I'll gladly dig them up and send them to you.

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    1. That's a kind offer, Tammy. I haven't tried belladonna lilies here, although I had them in my former garden. I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble, though. I'll e-mail you.

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  3. Can you guess how I feel about this plant? I LOVE IT! It's for sale here in the sprig at some of the pant sales, and I admire but pass every time. It's an expansive annual that I've just never wanted to experiment with. But if I lived your climate look out! I'd have 6 or 7 of them. So glad you're trying to rejuvenate your plant rather than just get rid of it.

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    1. Yes, I thought it might appeal to you but I understand the difficulties it presents in your climate. Some of the gardeners commenting on the Dave's Garden site indicate that it'll come back from a deep freeze but I expect a one-day freeze and a week-long freeze present different challenges.

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  4. Oh, I love it! I've passed on it for the same reason as Loree: it's an annual here. You're making me reconsider . . .

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    1. San Marcos Growers commented that the plant has been grown as a perennial in southern England but I have no idea what that means in terms of the frequency and duration of the freezes, Heather. I'll be interested to hear what happens if you decide to test its resilience.

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  5. That is one hot and exotic looking plant Kris, love it!!

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    1. It's an interesting flower, that's for sure!

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  6. I love this plant. Mine has been slow to come back, this year. But, we got down to low teens a couple of times last winter...plus, some late frosts & freezes in spring.
    I have a friend who has one that is that 4'X6'.....gorgeous.

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    1. I'm sure the spring frosts and freezes don't help things, Linda. I hope it recovers!

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  7. It really is a beautiful plant. I see people growing it in Austin but I don't think it would survive in my garden. I am often surprised by how well plants respond to cutting back. When the deer prune my plants they end up more bushy. Something I don't manage very often myself.

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    1. I've always been hesitant to cut things back hard but this shrub seems to like it. Your mention of deer reminded me that this particular shrub is said to be deer resistant - I guess they don't like its psychoactive properties.

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  8. Another plant we share in our gardens Kris. With me it is perennial and actually I lost one to frost a couple of years ago. Mine in not flowering yet. I like it better in the larger form you have because it doesn't die back in your area. Certainly a show stopper with the vivid orange flower.

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    1. Frost isn't something I have to worry about but I'm impressed that the plant comes back from the roots to flower, Christina.

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  9. Very unusual flowers! Do the orange tubes just fall out and leave the round holey bit bare?

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