An easy care, drought tolerant shrub with deep green leaves and showy orange flowers
This is Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonarus), also known a Lion’s Ear and Wild Dagga, a South African native that moved in and made itself at home in the dry garden on the west side of The Acre.
The plant started as a seedling six or seven years ago (where it came from, I do not know), and now stands about six feet tall and equally as wide.
It begins flowering in late spring and blooms through late autumn, providing an explosion of orange on what would otherwise be a dusty, brown slope covered in native sages, which go dormant here in San Diego’s hot, dry summer and fall.
A member of the mint family
Scientifically, Lion’s Tail is classified as a part of the mint family (Lamiaceae), although it has none of the fragrance you find in other members like sages, oreganos, or mints (mentha).
According my herb books, like mint, Lion’s Tail is used as an herbal medicine for stomach and chest ailments. It’s also reported that some people smoke the dried leaves for a mild hallucinogenic effect – sort of like Marijuana light. (I have not tried to confirm the effect, but it is a schedule 1 drug in Latvia and Poland, so it might be true.)
Lion’s Tail Plant Care
As a South African native, Leonotis leonarus is best suited for warmer climates (USDA zones 7 and above), but will survive colder temps with a little protection.
Here in San Diego (zone 9), it’s a very low maintenance plant. It’s not picky about the soil, has no special feeding requirements, and needs only occasional watering (I water it maybe once a month). It also has no insect pests that I can identify.
Lion’s Tail can get large and bushy, and its deep green leaves are attractive, so it can be used as a screening plant. It’s not at all picky about pruning either, and will bounce back almost immediate after a heavy cutting.
Like other members of the mint clan, Leonotis leonarus can easily be grown from seed as well as propagated from soft wood cuttings.
All-in-all, it’s a very attractive, easy to grow plant I highly recommend.
Lion’s Tail Trivia
The native habitat of Lion’s Tail is grasslands in South Africa where various nectar-eating insects and birds feed on the flowers.
Interestingly, scientists believe the orange color and curved, tubular blooms indicate that it evolved along side the African Sunbird, a nectivorous bird with a curved beak perfectly suited to feeding on these flowers.
Lion’s Tail Plant Details
|Common Name||Lion’s Tail, Lion’s Ear, Wild Dagga|
|Botanical Name||Leonotis leonarus|
|Native to||South Africa|
|Mature Size||4-6 ft. tall and 4-6 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Any (not picky)|
|Soil pH||Any (not picky)|
|Water||Little. Very drought tolerant.|
|Bloom Time||Late Spring, Summer, Fall|
|Hardiness||Zones 7-9 (USDA)|