Plant of the week: Lion’s tail - East Valley Tribune: Home

Plant of the week: Lion’s tail

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Posted: Friday, August 17, 2007 3:25 pm | Updated: 5:39 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Regal, creative, colorful and confident are terms used to describe those of us born under the astrological sign of Leo. Did you know flora and fauna are also placed under zodiac signs? Leo plants include sunflower, marigold, passionflower and larkspur. Lion’s tail was not specifically called out in my Leo research, but if ever there was a plant that should be a Leo, it’s lion’s tail.

The plant: Regal, creative, colorful and confident are terms used to describe those of us born under the astrological sign of Leo. Did you know flora and fauna are also placed under zodiac signs? Leo plants include sunflower, marigold, passionflower and larkspur. Lion’s tail was not specifically called out in my Leo research, but if ever there was a plant that should be a Leo, it’s lion’s tail.

This wild and robust shrub can dominate a garden or can harmonize with other plants to create a splendid, magnetic space. I’d like to think the botanical name Leonotis (leon meaning lion and otis meaning ear) comes from the Leo astrological connection, but history says its fuzzy, velvety stems and leaves surrounded by staggered whorls of bright orange flowers resemble a lion’s ear. East African women use this plant, native to South African grasslands, to gain the sexual prowess of a lion.

The square shape of the lion’s tail stem marks this plant as a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. If you’re looking to add curiosity to a desert-adapted garden or drama to a container, then take the tiger — I mean the lion — by the tail and give it a try. Give it a front-row spot and get ready for comments from impressed passers-by.

Growing guide: Full to partial sun

Culture: Prepare soil for flowering plant cultivation for this particular desert-adaptable plant, since it performs better with a rich, fertile soil. Lion’s tail is considered an evergreen shrub, but can perform as an annual in certain spots.

Plant in fall or early spring from seed or transplant. Lion’s tail can grow up to 6 feet tall. Space transplants 24 to 36 inches apart. Follow a regular watering schedule, keeping in mind that once lion’s tail is established it will be able to tolerate some drought. Look for flowers from late spring into early summer. A light, all-purpose organic fertilizer with a 5-5-5 NPK once or twice during growing season is fine, but don’t overdo it.

Maintenance: Lion’s tail will die back if hit hard with frost. Mulch in the winter and trim away dead limbs, or cut back in early spring. While you can pinch back young plants to encourage bushiness, and trim off spent blooms to keep the plant looking dapper, vigorous lion’s head will put on new growth regardless. If you leave flowers to dry, you can collect seed for next season or simply allow the plants to reseed naturally.

Barn Goddess tips: Lion’s tail, also called lion’s ear or wild dagga, is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. I have read that deer don’t like it, so maybe bunnies will avoid it, too. You can spy specimens growing at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension demonstration herb gardens at 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, in the spring.

Lion’s head is striking blooming there along with pink conehead thyme and yellow Jerusalem sage. At home, try planting lion’s head in a pot with “desert sunset” lantana and “limelight” Helichrysum. Note that lion’s tail has sharp edges and can cause skin irritation, so use care when handling.

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