Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Can't Help Myself

As butterfly gardeners, we're always watching to see which nectar plants make the biggest hit in My Florida Backyard. It's been our experience that milkweed (Asclepias curassavica and A. tuberosa) is one of the biggest draws - the tall blooms have been visited by every type of butterfly we see in the yard, not to mention the larval value for monarch and queen caterpillars. The second biggest draw? Lantana, in all its forms and colors. And unfortunately, that's a bit of a problem.

The lantana most commonly sold at nurseries (Lantana camara) is not only non-native, it's considered invasive in Florida. It's listed as a Category I invasive exotic species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, meaning it's known to be "invading and disrupting native plant communities in Florida". This species is native to the American tropics (and no, Florida is not in the tropics), but has actually managed to spread nearly world-wide due to its popularity in the nursery trade. It's nearly impossible to eradicate in climates with minimal frost impacts - it thrives on fire and benefits from being cut back to the roots.

(Wondering why you should care about invasive plants in Florida? Click here to learn more.)

Another species of lantana also commonly sold in nurseries is known as Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis). We have it in purple, white, and yellow (often sold as "New Gold" in nurseries) in My Florida Backyard. It's not listed on the invasive species list at this point, and it's still very popular with butterflies, so it might be considered a better ecological choice in a Florida-Friendly butterfly garden.

Florida's native lantana is Lantana depressa, often called Pineland Lantana. We have a couple of plants in My Florida Backyard that we've been told are L. depressa, but the more we read about "The Lantana Mess", the more we wonder if it really is. Apparently, introduced lantana species have hybridized so extensively with the native species that some scientists theorize you can't really find pure L. depressa these days. The species shown below, which we were sold as L. depressa, is most likely actually a L. camara hybrid called 'Cream Carpet'. Bummer, because it sure is pretty.

So, what's a butterfly gardener in Florida to do? Assuming you don't want to omit lantana species from your garden altogether (and we just don't, even if we should), you can take a few steps.
  • Familiarize yourself with lantana species by reviewing the guide found in the very informative article The Lantana Mess, by Roger L. Hammer. Knowledge is power!
  • It doesn't hurt to ask nursery staff if they happen to know if the lantana they offer is sterile. Many of the cultivars are so hybridized that they no longer produce viable seeds, and can be planted safely in a controlled environment. The "New Gold" lantana is considered by many to be just such a species, making it a better choice in Florida gardens. 
  • The trailing lantana species (L. montevidensis) are not on the invasive species list, so look for low-growing plants with white or purple flowers and leaves that smell fairly unpleasant when crushed.
  • If you already have L. camara plants in your garden, help control the spread of this invasive species by removing the berries before they can be carried off by birds and small mammals.  Dispose of these seeds in your regular trash, as opposed to what you put out for yard waste collection - yard waste is often recycled and used as mulch, so putting the berries into this collection will only spread them further. (Bear in mind that the berries are very toxic when unripe, and should be kept away from children and pets.)
We try hard to avoid doing damage to Florida's fragile ecosystem in Florida, but we have to admit we can't imagine our butterfly garden without lantana. So, we compromise by following the tips above to keep our lantana in check while also keeping our butterflies happy!


  1. I know just how you feel. I love lantana and it thrives, even in extreme conditions. Even with the freezes we had last winter, it came back. Thanks for the information.

  2. Nice post on Lantana. I had some a long time ago, don't know what happened to it though. There are some pretty colors out there.



  3. Great info. I have one lantana and have thought about pulling it, because it's invasive. Now, I know that I have the trailing one. So, I'll hang on to it :)

  4. I found what is (I was told) L. depressa (Pineland Lantana), Florida native, grown at Sandhill Native Nursery, east of Arcadia. 1 863-494-9737. Bought seven, 1-gallon plants today, and will see how they thrive. They look nothing like L. camara. Hope this helps. Thank you for the blog and pictures.