“[Lantana] is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots early in September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily. Keep young stock in a warm position through the winter months, and repot in April….
“Save the old plants, after frost has nipped their freshness late in autumn, prune severely back, remove them indoors, giving them a temperature anywhere above 40 degrees, and with a little attention and fresh soil, every plant will be a perfect specimen, covered with blooms in May.…
“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”
“This family consists mainly of shrubs and trees, and many herbaceous members of the family are slightly shrubby in growth. Most of them have square stems and leaves in opposite pairs, and most of them are distinctly aromatic, having a strong smell when handled or crushed, sometimes a pleasant scent, and in some cases a disagreeable odour. One of the best known species in this country is Lantana camara, a straggling, very prickly bush, originally introduced from America; this has spread widely over large areas of the country and is now declared a noxious weed. It has quite pretty, circular heads of orange and red flowers followed by black berries, but it is held responsible for a number of cases of cattle poisoning. It is also encroaching rapidly onto grazing lands, and an effort is being made to eradicate it entirely.
”Lantana angolensis is an erect, unbranched plant of up to fifty centimetres in height, flowering early in the year, and common in woodland clearings and on waste land. The stems are square, hairy, and woody towards the base, and the leaves grow on short stalks, either in pairs or in whorls of three around the stem. They are narrowly oval with a slight point, evenly toothed around the edges and hairy on both surfaces. The tiny, bright mauve flowers are borne in axillary and terminal clusters, half a dozen or so in a cluster surrounded by a ring of green bracts, the whole on a short, hairy stalk. More noticeable than the flowers and more attractive are the juicy, bright purple berries which follow them; these are much enjoyed by many kinds of birds.”
“One unwelcome side effect of the myriad transfers of plants and seeds around the world is the translocation of ‘invasive’ species. Plants arriving on foreign shores with an agreeable environment and a lack of predators have often quickly become naturalized. Those also encountering a ready pollinator or suitable means for dispersing seeds have been able to spread rapidly. In some cases, the new conditions have made the plant much more successful in its new locale than in its indigenous habitat. When a plant becomes disruptive to native flora in a particular location, it is deemed invasive….
“The brightly colored flowers of Lantana camara made it a popular garden flower in Europe when it arrived there from Central and South America. As the colonial powers expanded into the tropics it, too, became widely dispersed. Today, it is considered a problem in at least 50 countries. Since it was introduced to South Africa in 1880, it has invaded natural forests, plantations, overgrazed or burnt veld (grassland), orchards, rocky hillsides, and fields….
If you spend any time researching lantana, you’ll quickly find that in various parts of the world, it’s considered a seriously invasive species — owing in part to its rapid growth, entangling brush, and how its brush becomes woody and hard to cut as seasons progress and it spreads. The quotation above from Carolyn Fry’s The Plant Hunters above is one example, where she describes how it has impacted the Galapagos Islands flora, and it was my first encounter with a description of the plant’s potential impact on a avian species, the seabirds known as petrels.
As I’ve photographed and written about lantana each year, I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it with every post. If you’d like to peruse my other coverage of its invasiveness, its appearance in literature and film, and different ways I’ve photographed it, this tag — lantana — will take you to all my prior posts.
“The first order of business for a flower is to attract the attention of potential pollinators…. To attract pollinators, flowers use visual and/or chemical bait, or often both. Both chemical and visual cues can be outside our human perception, but technology can help us ‘see’ and ‘sniff’ like a pollinator.
“Visual cues include flower color and movement. Often the contrast of the color against the foliage is important, along with the contrasting colors within the flower. The vision of the animals plays a role in the evolution of flower colors. Hummingbirds have vision similar to ours, but bees do not. Bee vision is shifted toward the shorter wavelengths, so they see UV but not red. Research has shown that bees have a preference for blue flowers, which they see very well. Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are often in shades of red, which means that the flowers are mostly ignored by bees (although honey bees can learn to forage on red flowers). Hoverflies prefer yellow flowers. Flowers pollinated by nocturnal animals (bats, hawk moths) are typically white, which shows up well in the dim moonlight….
”Some plants supplement the color display of their inflorescences by surrounding their flowers with colorful bracts as in poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and dogwood (Cornus florida)… Others supplement the display by holding onto old flowers, but to prevent pollinators from visiting these spent, unrewarding flowers (and depositing precious pollen), pollinated flowers turn a color different from that of virgin flowers. Pollinators quickly learn the difference….
The word “lantana” always reminds me of the word “banana” — but I’m not convinced that there are any members of this plant family properly called “Lantana Banana” even if it seems there should be. I did purchase two shrubs of an almost-banana annual variety called Lantana Bandana Red in May and potted them both, but they never produced any photographically suitable flowers. It may have been too bloody hot for too long, even for heat-tolerant lantana. Maybe they’ll try again next year; annual lantana sometimes comes back here, often for two or three seasons before they decline to return.
If there was such a thing as “Lantana Banana”, I could imagine it being incorporated into The Name Game song, as “Lantana Banana bo-bana, fee-fi-mo-mana” and so on. You’re probably familiar with The Name Game — originally written and performed by Shirley Ellis — which was incorporated into an American Horror Story episode by the same name. A delightful song-and-dance performance by the cast took place in an insane asylum, led by Jessica Lange as her character was prompted out of a stupor by another character — one named “Lana Banana!” I mean, that’s SO close!
These lantana are from one border of my courtyard, in a spot that gets plenty of morning sun and some filtered light in late afternoon to early evening. They’re Mary Ann Lantana (officially Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’) — and I’ve had them for more than a decade. I didn’t know if they’d survive the freezing temperatures we had over the 2022 Christmas holidays, but the plant did bounce back if a bit smaller than usual, producing about a dozen clusters of their late summer blooms.
I was intrigued to find the quotation above about lantana color changes and what that means to pollinators. I always wondered why some of the flowers faded from multicolored to soft pink (reducing the number of colors and making sterile or previously pollinated flowers less visible to pollinators) — and now I guess I know!
“And how it grows! Nature — so neat and ingenious at devising forms, patterns and routines — seems here to have become bored with one of her creations; to have informed it with life, and then left it to its own devices. The result — as one might expect — is frightful.
“Other plants and weeds, endowed with a master plan providing that the growth of one part shall contribute, in conjunction with that of others, to a final harmony of shape and function, understand exactly what is expected of them, and address themselves without pause or hesitation to the achievement of their task. But a glance is enough to betray the sad fact that one stem of the lantana knows not what the others are doing; each sprouts upwards, downward or sideways at will, guided only by an eager, blundering vitality, a fervent, planless exuberance, a kind of anarchic zeal….
“Does this shrub… consist of a great many stems and no branches, or a great many branches and no stem? A stem — so we understand — is the ascending axis of a plant in contradistinction to its descending axis, or root; and a branch — if we have been properly informed — is that part which grows out of the stem. This definition may enable us to identify those stems which, having emerged from the earth directly above their descending axis, steadily and without further ado concentrate upon the business of ascent, putting forth boughs and branches as they go; but it is no help at all with lantana….
“For although lantana certainly ascends (and to prodigious heights), it can hardly be said to grow upwards. It achieves, rather, what we might at first be tempted to describe as an act of levitation….
“One’s sensations, while crawling into the lantana’s nether layers must markedly resemble those of a psychiatrist groping his way into the twilight of the unconscious, Great Heavens, what a mess!”
“The lantanas are free flowering in winter and summer, but an odor of foliage and flowers that is disagreeable to many persons prevents them from popular use as cut-flowers. They are very useful in window-gardens and the dwarf kinds make good subjects for hanging-baskets. From the window they may be transferred to the open in summer, where they grow profusely.
“The lantana is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots. In September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily….
“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”
“Lantana is generally termed a Weed. We go further, hereabouts, and call it a Pest, to say nothing of less printable names. But in fact it is not altogether useless, and it is not so much wicked as crazy. It preserves, through all its misdemeanours, a kind of feckless innocence which, while often inducing extreme exasperation, still disarms hostility. We have become used to it — as those who work in lunatic asylums become used to mental aberration.
“Other weeds, such as Noogoora burr, Cobblers’ Pegs, Crowsfoot, Groundsel and Stinking Roger, are systematic and purposeful enemies — Napoleons and Hitlers of the vegetable world, shameless aggressors bent upon territorial conquest; but the lantana, poor fool, is not really greedy for lebensraum. Like an amiable, gangling half-wit who, without the slightest intention of incommoding anyone, gets under everyone’s feet, it simply keeps alive, and grows.”
As I’ve featured it here many times before, early this fall I only took a few photos of some of the lantana growing on my property. Click this lantana tag if you’d like to take a look at the previous years’ galleries.
Since the flowers are small — typically about an inch in diameter — lantana is always an excellent subject for macro photography, even moreso perhaps because its stiff stems keep the flowers from swaying too much when it’s windy. It’s not flat — the tiny petals curve backward on a rounded structure about the size of a large marble — so it gives The Photographer a chance to practice achieving balance between depth of field and focus with a macro lens. You can see the difference among the set of images below: those with the sharpest focus on the flowers were taken at f-stops f/16 or f/19; those with a softer overall appearance (especially in the backgrounds) were taken at f/9 or f/11.
I like this variation — it’s officially called Mary Ann Lantana — because it packs so many colors in such small spaces. I mean, really, how many flowers can you think of that exhibit all these distinctly different tones?
Each spring, lantana varieties occupy a lot of space in southeastern garden centers, packed onto long tables in the tiniest plastic pots the stores carry, each pot sporting a single plug with just two or three foot-long stems. That’s how all of mine started, but they spread rapidly, filling up open ground spaces or stuffing a pot with new roots, sometimes shooting a long root through the pot’s drainage hole and deep into the ground. One had a big surprise for The Gardner when — in a frenzy of relocating pots — he grabbed a potted lantana, the lantana held its ground, and The Gardener fell on his ass.
But I’ve dug them up and pulled them out and replanted them many times, and they never seem to mind. Some wild varieties are considered invasive even here in Georgia; those perennial and annual variations available from garden centers are not. The annual varieties — despite being annuals — often return for a few years, and may continue to grow back without blooming but still produce beautiful thick batches of spear-tip-shaped, saturated-green leaves.
The second quotation at the top of this post, from the book Lantana Lane by Australian author Eleanor Dark, is in a book chapter whose full title is…
Some Remarks upon the Nature of Contrast with Special Reference to the Habits and Characteristics of Ananas comosus and Lantana camara and an Examination of their Economic and Psychological Effect upon Homo Sapiens
… which is a humorous mouthful. The contrast examined by the author compares pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) with lantana shrubs, both of which present challenges for Australia’s farmers and ecologists because of their unchecked growth, yet only one of the two — the lantana — meets the definition of “noxious” weed.
Because a weed is just a plant with a bad reputation, pineapple plants are let off the hook since they can at least bolster Australia’s economy (lots of pineapple for pizza, folks!) whereas lantana plants just tangle everybody up until they’re cut down or smothered with deadly chemicals (and are even then only in remission). Having wrestled to untangle and prune some that grew beyond their garden borders a couple of times, I can relate.
The book is mostly fiction, containing a series of short stories or vignettes about various characters and their struggles to live with lantana. In that sense it follows a typical literary theme of “man versus nature” or “civilization versus wilderness” — with the antagonist taking the form of a shrub whose exuberant growth will not be stopped. It’s unusual for a plant to feature this prominently in a work of fiction, so that — along with Ms. Dark’s lyrical writing style — makes for a delicious read. Lantana becomes an ominous presence in many scenes, not entirely unlike its appearance in the 2001 murder-mystery Lantana (also set in Australia) where the shrub waved menacingly throughout the movie and (spoiler alert!) was used to hide a corpse. Stand aside, Audrey Jr. — The Little Shop of Horrors is amateur hour compared to exploding invasions of lantana.