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Texas Lantana

Texas Lantana - Lantana urticoides
Location: In a bed at the front of the southwest door of the Administration Building. (Map)

This plant is a member of the Verbenaceae (Verbena Family). You can see the resemblance between Texas Lantana and the wild or cultivated Verbena in several ways, but especially when you look at the infloresence. The small flowers are closely arranged in heads on the ends of the peduncles (floral stems or stalks). Lantana urticoides has bright yellow flowers in the center of the infloresence with orange flowers toward the periphery. These orange flowers turn red as they age. Lantana was the Latin name for a plant now placed in the Genus Viburnum in the Capriflorliaceae (Honeysuckle Family). Viburnum lantana L, an Asian tree, called the Wayfaring Tree, may be the origin of the name Lantana because of the structural similarities of the inflorescences. The specific epithet comes from urtica which means “nettle” in reference to the hair-like structures or prickles on the stems and leaves. These appendages may cause a contact dermatitis. The older name Lantana horrida was because of the “horrible” odor of the plant according to some sources. It is very pungent and unpleasant to some, but that odor may be what keeps the deer from eating Lantanas except as a last resort. There are no really “deer-proof” plants; there are those that they eat last.

Lantana urticoides is native to Central and South Texas and ranges into neighboring states and Mexico in the wild and in cultivation. Lantana camara, that has individual creamy flowers that turn pink as they mature, is native to tropical America. This species is a popular landscape plant especially in the Houston area. It has escaped cultivation and many color variations can be seen in the resulting hybrids. Some of the various crosses are available as cultivars in nurseries. Lantana fruits are eaten by birds that widely distribute the seeds.

Texas Lantana is a drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, much-branched woody shrub that grows from 2 to 6 feet. Planted in full sun to part shade, it will grow rapidly as soon as the soil temperature rises in the spring. Too much water, fertilizer or shade will inhibit flower production. The drupe-like fruits are dark purple to black; these should be removed to enhance continuous blooming, if the birds do not do it. Lantana blooms on new growth so it can be pruned almost any time during the growing season. Nothing looks “deader” in a winter landscape than Lantana, but cut it back and in the spring it will come out in a burst of glorious color. The color and the nectar will attract butterflies and hummingbirds throughout the bloom period (spring to fall), and birds will eat the fruits making this plant a must for a butterfly garden or Wildscape.

The leaves are dark green and ovate to sub-triangular in shape. Leaves are arranged oppositely along the stem and have coarse serrations on the margins. Both the stems and leaves have prickles on their surfaces as mentioned above. Young stems are square in cross-section but they become rounded as they mature. The leaves and the fruits contain a toxic alkaloid, Lantanine, and are considered poisonous to humans and livestock if ingested. Mention is made in the literature that this plant has been used to treat snake bites and for other medicinal purposes.

Lantana urticoides is easy to grow. It can be propagated by cuttings which root easily, by layering a stem or by seeds.

Enquist, Marshall. Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country
Diggs, George M. Jr. , Barney L. Lipscomb, Robert J. O’Kennon. Shinners & Mahler’s Flora of North Central Texas.
Tveten, John & Gloria. Wildflowers of Houston & Southeast Texas.
Vines, Robert A. Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest