All plant species do not grow skyward. Some grow downwards, and some attain growth horizontally. Lantana is one such genus, trailing down the hanging pot or covering the ground, its thick foliage adorned by little globes of colourful blooms.
Calling to mind multi-coloured galaxies in a verdant sky, Lantana is a very hardy and popular ornamental shrub. Belonging to the taxonomic family Verbenaceae, it is also known as Spanish Flag and native to Tropical America.
Originally Lantana was brought to India by the British during early 19th century as an ornamental plant for the Calcutta Botanical Garden and with its extremely adaptable and prolific nature, it has spread to all areas of the country except the deserts and the Himalayas. Lantana is considered as an invasive and noxious weed and has become menace in some natural forest areas. Then how can we use this ‘obnoxious’ species in our garden? It is thanks to the horticulturists who developed sterile, non-fruit-bearing cultivars of Lantana which are not invasive. Otherwise the birds and mammals spread the plants to unwarranted locations by eating the fruits and passing the seeds. There are two important ornamental species which have horticultural importance, namely Lantana camara (Common Lantana) and Lantana montevidensis (Creeping Lantana).
Ornamental Lantana is a perennial, compact, scrambling evergreen shrub often forming dense thickets, growing to about two to three feet height, characterised by square-shaped stems. Leaves are egg shaped (ovate) and bright green with a rough hairy texture and toothed edges.
They produce bright and colourful clusters of blossoms even under the most intense sunlight. Flowers are five-lobed, small, salver-formed, and grouped tightly into rounded terminal heads.
Flowering is almost year round in warm areas. There are many types distinguished by the colour of flowers, in garden varieties of Lantana camara - pink, white, red, yellow and orange. In Lantana montevidensis or Creeping Lantana, lilacs and whites are available. Creeping Lantana is a continuous bloomer producing heavy quantities of small lilac flowers (White flower variety is not a heavy bloomer). The flowers of creeping Lantana are heavily fragrant.
Lantana is fast growing and easy to propagate, establish and maintain and it is prized by gardeners for its copious blooms. The garden varieties are generally more compact with smaller leaves. The flowers are highly attractive to butterflies. These plants can survive prolonged dry periods. Lantanas grow well under full sunlight in well drained soils. They tolerate moderate saline conditions and can be used in seaside plantings. But optimum growth with profuse flowering happens when planted in slightly acidic soils. However, they cannot tolerate total shade, heavy clay soils, high salinity and water-logged conditions.
Creeping Lantana is perfect to use for colourful low-maintenance groundcover. The lilacs bloom continually. This is an excellent plant for containers and planters where the branches cascade down gracefully. It is also used as a low hedging, edging and ground cover which thrives in both sun and semi-shade, but blooms more profusely in sunny locations. Lantanas are ideally suited for hanging baskets and any other containers.
Newly planted Lantana plants require good watering and once established, these plants require very little maintenance. During hot summer or drought, one must water once a week to ensure uninterrupted blooms.
A balanced, slow-release fertilizer can be applied during the spring. Lantanas are very hardy plants and over fertilization may result in more foliage growth at the expense of flowers.
Prune the branches often, as the blooms increase with new growth. Overgrown branches can be cut back to a third of their growth so that new flush with tender branches and fresh flowers appear. Lantanas are not affected by too many problems, if planted under bright sunlight in well-drained soil.
Powdery mildew, sooty mold, rust, and whiteflies are common if the plants are not given enough light. Root-rot may cause death of the plants, if they are kept too wet.
Lantanas can be easily propagated from stem cuttings during summer. Take semi-ripe cuttings, about four to five inches long from the non-flowering branches, cut off the leaves and side branches. Submerge the ends in a root hormone, and insert the cuttings in a porous medium. Roots will start to form in about two to three weeks. Once new shoots are seen, they are ready for transplanting.
(The author is a forest officer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)