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Flora Fact: Leggy Lantana

Hardy native produces colorful flowers and attracts butterflies.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) – sometimes called calico bush – feels right at home in both well-kept gardens and natural habitats. So robust and popular is this native species that numerous hybrids, equally colorful and hardy, now can be found in most nurseries across the state.

In the wild, the shrubby plant grows well in most soils. They may be spotted in fields, thickets and hillsides and along fence lines and roadsides. From April through October, compact clusters of bright red, yellow and orange flowers cover the leggy branches, drawing numerous butterfly species – buckeye, gulf fritillary, pipevine swallowtail, monarch, spicebush swallowtail, and more. Other nectar-loving insects, such as the snowberry clearwing moth, also relish the blooms.

Its rough foliage, considered poisonous to both man and livestock, emits an unpleasant scent when crushed and can even cause a skin rash. In Mexico, the medicine derived from lantana leaves once treated snakebites and stomachaches, according to Trees and Shrubs of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas. Some birds, including quail, eat the blue-black fruit, which is also deemed poisonous.

Over the years, lantana hybrids have gained popularity among gardeners. Upright and trailing favorites offer a rainbow of hues and color combinations. Bonus: They're all deer-resistant, sun-loving and drought-tolerant.

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