The Inflorescence of Lantana camara (Common Lantana)
The Inflorescence of Lantana camara (Common Lantana)

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Description & Uses

The Lantana camara (Common Lantana) is of great interest: being a highly ornamental but at the same time highly invasive plant, it attracts the plantlovers but also worries experts and producers.

Its plantlovers recognize it as a perennial shrub with abundant and prolonged flowering, bearing inflorescences with flowers of various colors; experts and producers see in the L. camara a dangerous invader for the respective native biodiversity and a responsible of considerable economic damage to crops but also in livestock farming.

This article is dedicated to the pleasant, ornamental side of the plant – which could be the only one if only its sterile varieties were chosen for planting -, as well as to all aspects of its use, while in a subsequent one, for which the editorial team of "Kalliergeia" promises that it will not be published relatively soon, reference will be made to the unpleasant and annoying invasive side of it.

For the time being, we leave this article to the reader, with the strong urge to recognize in it the accomplishment of yet another summer’s literary feat on the part of its tireless editors scattered across wild beaches and inhospitable mountains.

The fruits of Common Lantana are toxic when are green and unripe but become edible when ripe, turning a dark blue-black color.

Ripe and Unripe Fruits of Spanish Flag
Ripe and Unripe Fruits of Spanish Flag
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Lantana camara Origin

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Map of Origin
Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Map of Origin

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Brief Description

Family: Verbenaceae

GenusLantana

Scientific Name: Lantana camara L.

Common Name: Big-Sage, Common Lantana, Lantana, Red Sage, Shrub Verbena, Spanish Flag, West Indian Lantana, Yellow Sage | Bandera Española, Cinco Negritos (in Spanish), Cambará-De-Espinho (in Portuguese of Brazil), Camará-De-Espinho, Cambará-De-Chumbo, Lantata Trepadeira (in Portuguese)

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Evergreen

Form

Oval – Vertical, Round Shape Shrub

Texture

Coarse

Growth Rate

Fast

Flowering Period

Spring to Autumn (Year round/Tropics)

Fruiting Period

Year Round

Height

1.5-3 m (5-10 ft)

Diameter

1.5-3 m (5-10 ft)

Shapes and Colours

Leaves Shape

Ovate, Obovate

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Green

Flowers Shape

Star – Tubular

Flowers Colour

Yellow, Orange, Red

Fruit

Blue, Purple-Black Drupe

Plantation

Soil Type: Well-drained, loamy, clayey

Exposure: Sun, Half-shade

Soil pH: 4.5-8.5

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: −6.7 °C (20 °F – USDA Hardiness Zone 9a)

Uses

Specimen, mass planting, parks, gardens, flower beds, pots and containers

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

The name of the genus Lantana is a Neo-Latin word that is obviously derived from the vulgar Latin lentāgō, which of course originates from the Latin lentus. The undisputed meaning of the latter is light and flexible, while it comes from the Proto-Indo-European *lento- which clearly means lithe, flexible, and pliable.

Etymology of the Species Name

The species name camara is probably the Latin vernacular version of the learned word camera, which is found even in classical works of Latin authors. Either way, the origin of both can be traced back to the Ancient Greek word καμάρα (kamαra), meaning a covered arched structure. In turn, the καμάρα comes from the Proto-Iranian word *kamarā- which is rendered as something curved, however the ultimate origin of the latter is the Proto-Indo-European *kh₂em- which has the meaning to bend as well as curve.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara Plant in Blooming
Lantana camara Plant in Blooming

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

Although little research has been done on the species’ exact native regions, it is assumed that it originated in the Neotropics of the New World.

This vast biogeographic space includes both the terrestrial tropical areas of Central and South America as well as the temperate regions of the American continent.

Taking into account the above and the scientific data so far, it is considered that the Common Lantana is native to partial ecoregions of the Neotropics which are located:

  • In Mexico
  • In the countries of Central America (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama)
  • In the Caribbean (Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola- i.e. Haiti and Dominican Republic-, Jamaica and Puerto Rico)
  • And in South America (Venezuela and Colombia)

Such an approach is also strengthened by the fact that in these places, the species does not behave as a weed for the most part.

Ecology - Habitat

Despite the lack of data on the native habitats of the plant, it could be safely said that these are not within dense natural forests, due to its given non-tolerance to shade.

However, in the clearings of the forests as well as peripheral to them, the Common Lantanas occupy small or extensive areas. The same happens in other naturally open areas, where they form more or less solid thickets.

In terms of rainfall, the plant grows in those locations that receive from 200 to 4000 mm of water on average per year, while in terms of temperatures, in those where the mean annual air temperature is 13 °C.

Lantana camara is found at an altitude starting from sea level and reaching up to 2000 m.

Life Span

The longevity of Spanish Flags ranges between 20 and 30 years.- a period rather capable of paying off but also of yielding significant aesthetic and other capital gains to the plantlovers who invested in it.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Landscape Attributes

The Spanish Flag is an evergreen, perennial, medium-sized woody shrub, with a height and diameter ranging from 1.50 to 3.00 m.

It has a spherical or oval shape and an upright, spreading or arching appearance, and its canopy has a high density, a regular outline, and is characterized as having a coarse texture.

It is a multi-branched plant with beautiful, dark green colored leaves, however its main decorative element is its hemispherical shaped colorful inflorescences with small tubular flowers, as well as its long-lasting and abundant flowering.

The flowers open from the inside of the inflorescence to the outside and change color within 24 hours, where the initial yellow, turns orange and then red.

The flowering period of the plant in temperate climates covers a time span of about 150± days, starting from mid-Spring and ending in mid-Autumn. In the Tropics, Lantanas bloom all year round.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Flowers & Unripe Fruits on a Spanish Flag Plant
Flowers & Unripe Fruits on a Spanish Flag Plant

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Botanical Description

Root

The plant has a taproot which is strong, woody, short, brown in color and conical in shape. The lateral, secondary roots which grow from it are directed for a considerable part at or near the surface of the soil. All are divided into a number of smaller roots creating a dense root system.

The superficial roots play an important role in plant expanding and regeneration, since they are capable of producing new shoots – especially if they suffer intentional or non mechanical damage.

Stems, Branches & Twigs

The twigs and young stems are green, surrounded by hard, fine and inconspicuous hairs and often curved short thornes. They are square in cross-section, with the length of their sides ranging from 2 to 4 mm.

Mature stems and branches are grayish-brown in color and circular in cross-section, with the largest of them having a diameter varying between 13 and 15 cm.

The branches are woody or brittle.

Leaves

The leaves are simple, ovate or oblong-ovate in shape and measure 2 to 12 cm in length and 1.5 to 8 cm in width.

They end in an acute, short-acuminate or more rarely in a obtuse apex, the margins are regurarly toothed, while their base is cordate, round or acutely narrowed.

The lamina has a chartaceous texture, its upper surface is rough and covered with sharp and hard hairs, and the lower surface is usually pubescent. On the upper surface there are few stomata, while on the lower surface the veins are prominent.

A petiole 0.5 to 3 cm long connects the leaves to the stems, on which they are arranged decussate-opposite.

Flowers

The flowers are conspicuous, hermaphrodite and zygomorphic. Their color is yellow, orange-yellow or orange, but after pollination they turn red or scarlet red.

The calyx is tubular in shape and has sepals with 4 shallow teeth. The corolla is salveform, while the tube terminates at the top in 4 unequal, spreading lobes, 6 to 8 mm in diameter.

The calyx tube is slender, puberulent, slightly curved and enlarged almost above the middle, and its length varying between 6 and 9 mm.

The stamens are 4 and didynamous and are carried on thin filaments. The ovary is superior, 2-locular and glabrous, with 1 ovule per locule. The style is thin and the stigma capitate.

Below the ovary is the nectariferous disc.

Pollination

The Spanish Flag pollination is carried out by insects (entomophilous species)- such as thrips and bees – but also by various birds (ornithophilous species).

Fruit & Seeds

The fruit of the Spanish Flag is a globose drupe with a diameter ranging from 4 to 8 mm. Its color is initially green and the fruit hard and poisonous, but when ripe it turns dark blue or black and becomes edible.

It has persistent calyx at the base of the drupe, while the endocarp, which is hard, ovoid, and 2-locular, is brown in color and measures 4 to 5 mm long and about 3 mm wide.

Each fruit contains 1 to 2 seeds, which – under suitable natural conditions – can maintain their viability for up to 11 years.

The spread of seeds is mainly carried out by birds (ornithochorous species).

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Climate & Soil

Temperature

Regarding the minimum temperature values that do not cause damage to the Spanish Flag there are confusing and contradictory literature reports.

It has been recorded, for example, that at temperatures of 3 to 5 °C the plant suffers damage, which may not be the case since the plant can withstand minimum values close to -6.7 °C.

Empirically, it could even be said that L. camara withstands temperatures up to -2 to -3 °C without any loss other than that of its foliage.

With high temperatures it does not face any problem as it withstands maximum values higher than 40 °C.

Soil and pH

The plant adapts perfectly to a wide range of soil types, with the exception of permanently wet – boggy as well as saline.

It prefers medium to heavy textured soils – regardless of whether they are fertile or infertile – as long as they have excellent drainage. However, it thrives especially in heavy clays that have great depth and moderate fertility.

In terms of soil reaction, soil pH, the plant can adapt to an impressively wide range of values ranging between 4.5 and 8.5 – from acidic to moderately alkaline. But the optimal value range for its development is between 6 and 7.

Exposure

The Spanish Flag looks for places with full exposure to the sun for its uninterrupted flowering, however, in very hot areas it can be placed without problems in light shade.

It can also be planted in coastal areas as it shows remarkable tolerance to salt sprays.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Pests & Diseases

And only the highly effective, persistently invasive character of the Lantana camara shows in the most direct way its lack of serious pests and diseases. However, even this plant is not without parasites – so that it does not have the slightest complaint that it goes unnoticed.

Pests

Immediately below are recorded the most important pests of the L. camara.

Pests

Order: Hemiptera

  • Aconophora compressa (Lantana Bug)
  • Falconia intermedia
  • Leptobyrsa decora (Lantana Lace Bug)
  • Phenacoccus parvus (Lantana Mealybug)
  • Teleonemia elata
  • Teleonemia elata
  • Teleonemia harleyi
  • Teleonemia prolixa
  • Teleonemia scrupulosa
  • Teleonemia validicornis

Order: Diptera

  • Eutreta xanthochaeta (Gall Fly)
  • Ophiomyia camarae
  • Ophiomyialantanae  (Lantana Seed)

Order: Coleoptera

  • Geraeus nr. curvispinis
  • Longitarsus sp. (Flea Beetle)
  • Octotoma championi (Lantana Leafminer)
  • Octotoma pliculata (Leaf Beetle)
  • Octotoma scabripennis
  • Omophoita albicollis
  • Plagiohammus spinipennis (Lantana Cerambycid)
  • Uroplata girardi (Hispid)

Order: Lepidoptera

  • Hepialus sp.
  • Hypena laceratalis (Lantana Defoliator Moth)
  • Hypena strigatus (Lantana Defoliator)
  • Langsdorfia franckii
  • Neogalea sunia (Lantana Stick Moth)
  • Platyptilia pussilidactyla
  • Pseudopyrausta acutangularis
  • Salbia haemorrhoidalis (Lantana Leaftier)
  • Strymon bazochii (Smaller Lantana Butterfly)
  • Thecla sp.

By using the appropriate insecticides, their treatment is satisfactory.

Diseases

After the pests, the recording of the diseases follows.

Fungi

Order: Capnodiales

  • Micropustulomyces aspera (Chaff-Flower)
  • Micropustulomyces mucilaginosus
  • Mycovellosiella lantanae var. lantanae
  • Pseudocercospora guianensis
  • Septoria sp.

Order: Ceratobasidiales

  • Ceratobasidium lantanaecamarae

Order: Helotiales

  • Botrytis cinerea (Botrytis Bunch Rot)

Order: Myriangiales

  • Anhellia lantanae

Order: Pleosporales

  • Dendryphiella aspera

Order: Pucciniales

  • Aecidium lantanae
  • Prospodium tuberculatum
  • Puccinia lantanae

By the timely use of appropriate fungicides, the treatment of fungi is satisfactory.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

The flowers, leaves and unripe (green) fruits are toxic to humans and especially to children, although reported poisonings are rare. Also the same plant parts are toxic to animals.

The responsible toxic substance or substances are unknown (although some publications indicate the phototoxin lantadene A – clearly wrongly).

Symptoms of poisoning in humans mostly occur within 2 to 6 hours of ingestion.

They include in the mild version of toxicity disorders of the gastrointestinal system, with nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

In severe cases, poisoning is manifested by weakness, lethargy, dilation of the pupils of the eyes and depression of the respiratory system.

In animals, where reports of toxicity are more frequent, cholestasis and photosensitization may also be observed.

Allergenicity

As a non-anemophilous plant, it does not cause allergic reactions by its pollen.

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses

Shrubs of Lantana camara in Garden
Shrubs of Lantana camara in Garden

Lantana camara (Common Lantana) - Uses

The traditional uses of the Spanish Flag concern its ethnobotanical exploitation as well as the ornamental.

However, due to both its invasive nature and the difficulty to eradicate, in many areas where it has become a dominant weed, various local communities have found alternative ways of using the plant.

Still, modern research has highlighted some interesting exploitable aspects of L. camara.

All of this is discussed immediately below.

Domestic-Craft-Industrial

The L. camara is used as domestic fuel for heating and cooking as well as firewood and mulch.

The thin branches lend themselves to the creation of brooms and baskets. Tables and chairs are made from the thick branches.

Treated with sulfates, the stems of the plant can be used to create writing and printing paper.

Pesticides-Iinsecticides

The L. camara produces various biochemical compounds (secondary metabolites) with a negative allelopathic active. In combination with the large amounts of biomass that it develops, it seems that there is a possibility for the utilization and application of these substances as natural herbicides.

Their systematic use in agriculture, with the simultaneous gradual replacement of a corresponding spectrum of action of chemical preparations, will contribute to greater protection of the health of producers and consumers.

Furthermore, it has been shown that the extraction with various solvents of the leaves and flowers of the plant yields preparations which have a remarkable larvicidal active, while the flowers themselves can be used as an agent to control mosquitoes.

In addition, storing the potato together with Spanish Flag leaves prevents the damaging effect of Potato Tuber Moth, which is caused by the lepidopterous Phthorimaea operculella.

Ethnobotany

Traditionally, the whole plant as well as various plant parts have been used as tonics, antibacterials, antihypertensives and expectorants, as well as for the treatment of various other diseases.

In particular, an infusion of the whole plant of Common Lantana is given to fight bronchitis and catarrh.

The leaves, in the form of a poultice, are used to heal wounds, as well as against measles and chicken pox.

As decoctions they are given against constipation, fever and diaphoretic, while externally they are used to fight inflammation of the eyes (ophthalmia) and purulent wounds.

In baths or as hot fomentations they are applied to treat dropsy.

The roots are used to fight rheumatism, skin rashes and also to treat malaria.

Ornamental

The Lantana camara, and preferably its sterile varieties, can be used in a number of ways in the garden and landscape.

In particular, they can be used:

  • As potted plants in gardens and balconies
  • In urban plantings, as they show excellent resistance to the polluted atmosphere of cities
  • To complement the plant species that will create butterfly gardens
  • In coastal areas, due to their resistance to salt sprays
  • As ground cover plants
  • In mass plantings
  • Combined with other ornamental plants such as the flowering herbaceous perennials Egyptian Starcluster (Pentas lanceolata), Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and the perennial evergreen Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)

References

The references of this mid-August in-depth article entitled Lantana camara (Common Lantana) – Description & Uses are presented by the distinguished Colombian composer Lucho Bermudez with his orchestral piece Coqueteando – that is something as coquetry in August.

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