Thursday, October 11, 2007

Plant ID: Lantana camara

(Lantana camara in front of the Javits Center, NYC. Photography by Alex Feleppa, 2007)

There's a lovely flower in the pots outside the Javits Center and I'd love to know what it is. Hard to describe something so visual, I know, but here goes:
It's a cluster of small flowers, making up one large half-round head. The smaller flowers are shaped like Alyssum – four distinct petals with a center. The large head is the interesting part, though. It consists of a center grouping of yellow, with an outer ring of magenta. The colors are like Lantana, but more intense, and these component flower petals aren't sharply defined enough. And it makes berries! Fully-round, dark purple, and sort of in grapelike clusters.
If it weren't for the berries, I'd think it was a variety of Lantana or Alyssum, but they don't make berries, do they? I'm stumped. Looking forward to hearing from you.

I finally took a walk over to the Javitz today on my lunch break. I found the mystery plant, and its mystery fruit, and you’re first instinct was absolutely right – it’s a Lantana!

Lantana camara is commonly called lantana or yellow sage. Native to the West Indies and Central America this plant requires warmer winters so we can only enjoy it as an annual here in New York. However, what a fabulous annual it is. Not only does lantana tolerate more sandy and/or nutrient-poor soils, some experienced horticulturists swear that the plant actually performs better in these conditions. Either way I love to use lantana, whether spilling out of containers or adding extra "pop" to annual or perennial garden beds. The long, sturdy stems with pom-poms of hot-colored flower clusters are sensational. I also like the fruity, almost musky fragrance of the crushed foliage, but some may disagree with me on that. An extra added bonus is that once established in your garden it can prove to be a bit more drought tolerant than other annuals we typically plant.

The pictures above are ones I took of the fruit-set you were describing to me. I am so glad you brought that to my attention. I admit, you had me stumped too! Lantana has long been one of my favorite annuals since I began my career in horticulture, but I had never seen it set fruit. I would guess these plants were planted early on in spring since the leaves are as large as they are. Obviously during the summer the flowers were pollinated, by butterflies, and it has been a long and hot enough since then that the plants were able to produce their fruit. In each of the fruit is a viable seed, but I am not sure how easy it is to propagate them. I certainly am tempted to grab a few of the fruit clusters though and see if I can get the seeds to grow.

Annuals with Style by Michael A. Ruggiero, Taunton Press, 2002.

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