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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - February 10, 2008

From: Cape Coral, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Invasive Plants, Shrubs
Title: Identification of lantanas safe for use in Florida
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Why do you list lantana camara as a native to the U.S. and as a native plant in Florida? It is a category one invasive exotic on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's list of invasive exotics. Lantana depressa and lantana involucrata are Florida natives and safe to use.

ANSWER:

Well, see, just because something is native doesn't mean it can't get invasive. On our Native Plant Database Lantana camara (lantana) is listed as "Native Distribution" from Georgia to Texas, which makes it a native of North America. Lantana urticoides (West Indian shrubverbena) is also native to Texas. Both of these are listed as "Distributed to:" Florida, among other states. Because it is a sub-tropical plant, it obviously would love Florida and become invasive. No doubt, it is purchased there because it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and then escapes cultivation. We also took a look at this Floridata site on Lantana camara, which agrees with what you say about the problem lantanas are causing in Florida, and that it is even escaping cultivation and invading natural areas in Texas. Also on our database, we found Lantana involucrata (buttonsage) which the webpage noted is a PlantWise native alternative for Lantana camara (lantana).

We did not find Lantana depressa on our Native Plants website, so we went to Google, and found this article by Roger L. Hammer from a magazine of the Florida Native Plant Society, titled "The Lantana Mess". The author makes a very valuable point-that there are just too many lantanas around, too much hybridization, too much migrating into previously untouched areas to be certain that any cultivar or species of an invasive plant is going to be "safe." When we are asked to recommend plants for butterfly gardens or color or tolerance of heat or drought, the lantanas always seem to come up. You might be interested in this recent previous answer on Mr. Smarty Plants, in which we were given a list of plants and asked to identify those which were native to Texas (and, thus, or course, also native to North America). This became incredibly complicated, not only with lantana, but with many of the other cultivars and trade names for plants. Often, one site will say a plant is native and another say it is not. The commercial trade will use "native" as an adjective about a plant when, in fact, it is a hybrid. When plants are hybridized, whether naturally or through human intervention, we don't have a lot of control over which properties are going to emerge in the new plant.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the care and propagation of plants native to North America, but it is also committed to the identification of invasive plants, native or not, and attempts to educate the public in ways to control and curb those plants, or avoid cultivating them in the first place.

 

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