Leonotis: Mint Family Members that Roar in the Landscape

First posted on Sep 11, 2014

Leonotis: Mint Family Members that Roar in the Landscape

Orange is an aggressive color in the garden. It doesn't purr. The fuzzy, shaggy, hot orange flowers of the Leonotis genus growl for attention. Their stems are so tall that they may reach up to 6 feet, towering over the foliage like gawky Dr. Seuss blossoms.

In a breeze, a stem can look like a lion's tail flicking back and forth. From a distance, the whorls of tubular flowers also look like tiny lion's manes intermittently wrapped around the long stems.

Leonotis species are native to parts of Africa and India. We grow them at Flowers by the Sea Farm, because we love their color, stature, long bloom and drought resistance. We also love how they attract butterflies and honeybees and are one of few Eastern Hemisphere genera that appeal to hummingbirds. The species we grow are:

Lion's Ear or Wild Dagga (Leonotis leonurus) and
Mint Lion's Ear or Klipp Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia).

What's In a Name and In a Plant
Leonotis species sometimes are called Lion's Tail. But we choose to call them Lion's Ear, because, in Latin, leon means lion and otis means ear.

In various parts of Africa, these plants are known as different kinds of Dagga, which is a name also applied to Marijuana (Cannabis sativa). But Labdanes -- the somewhat psychoactive chemicals in Leonotis species -- are not botanically the same as those of Marijuana. Yet Leonotis plants sometimes are used recreationally.

Except for culinary Salvias, such as the kinds used when cooking poultry, we don't recommend consuming our plants. However, we are interested in the historical use of various Leonotis species as folk remedies in Africa and in current medical research suggesting that these beautiful plants may be helpful in treating health problems.

A study published in 2012 in the journal Phytochemistry indicates that the labdanes in L. leonurus may be useful in calming anxiety. It also notes the plant's medical use in South Africa for ailments such as coughs, epilepsy, headaches, high blood pressure and rashes.

Similarities and Differences
Leonotis plants are subshrubs, which means that they combine soft, herbaceous growth with some woodiness. They rebound annually in areas with mild winter climates, such as USDA Zone 9 where temperatures usually sink no lower than 20 degrees F.

Lion's Ear plants work well in waterwise xeriscaping, including dry gardens. Grouped together, these members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) family provide a portrait of diversity. Although the furriness, color and whorling of their bright orange flowers are roughly the same, the configuration of their flowers isn't. The flowers of L. leonurus are upright and curve slightly at their tips whereas the blossoms of L. nepetifolia droop slightly atop large, thistle-like globes, looking like orange sherbet ready to melt. 

Foliage presents another set of differences. If you were to look at both species side by side when out of bloom, you likely wouldn't think these plants are related. L. nepetifolia has heart-shaped leaves while L. leonurus has long, narrow, pendulous foliage.

Great companion plants include other pollinator favorites that also have characteristics worthy of a Dr. Seuss garden. These include the bright bat-ear blossoms of some Cupheas.

Give Us a Growl
Whether you want to make your garden roar with hot primary colors in unusual shapes or purr with sweet pastels, we have advice to offer at FBTS.

We can also advise you about felicitous combinations for all types of growing conditions whether dry, damp or in-between. Just give us a growl by telephone or email. We're constantly out in our gardens and greenhouses, but ready for questions. The telephone and computer are never far away.

Edited Dec 15, 2020 04:00 PM
Alicia Rudnicki for FBTS

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Plants mentioned in this article