One plant that now has an important place in water-thrifty landscapes is lantana.Its vividly colored flowers make this shrub a welcome addition to desert landscapes, which can sometimes appear stark. It tolerates the high temperatures that occur during Mojave Desert summers and will continue to produce flowers until late in the fall. This is a plant for sunny areas, blooming best when kept out of shade. Its water requirements are relatively low, and it has few insect or disease pests.
Where lantana originally evolved is not certain, but many authors believe that it probably originated in the Caribbean. For over 300 years, it has been included in gardens wherever the climate is mild. It has now become naturalized in over 60 countries worldwide, particularly in areas of high relative humidity, warm temperatures and mild winters.
There are over 100 species of lantana, and many more hybrids. Quite a few of the hybrids used in landscapes are cultivated from Lantana camara,although the varieties that display a trailing habit are mainly hybrids of Lantana montevidensis. Another species is Lantana horrida. The name refers to the smell of the leaves when they are crushed.
A number of factors make lantana desirable for southern Nevada landscapes. Many desert flowers are yellow. Lantana’s range of flower color is impressive – variants of orange and yellow are the most frequently found colors, but white, pink and lavender-hued flowers are also widely available.
The infertile, alkaline soils of the desert southwest frequently contain high levels of salt. These conditions can pose major problems for many landscape plants in the desert, but lantana can tolerate these conditions.Once established in the landscape, lantana requires relatively low amounts of irrigation, and will even tolerate some drought conditions. With its vivid colors and the arrangement of its flowers, lantana is attractive to butterflies. Southern Nevada butterflies attracted to lantana include:
- Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
- Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
- Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papiliorutuuis)
Lantana nectar is a primary food source of Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and Pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) adult butterflies. Researchers in India have discovered that oils from lantana can repel the Aedesmosquito, which spreads malaria.
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