Lantana involucrata (Verbenaceae)
Coastal shrub lantana (Verbena Family)
Origin: Florida to Mexico and the Caribbean
There are many good reasons to use native plants in our home landscapes. They attract native wildlife, are adapted to the growing conditions in our area, do not require excessive irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers, and help to blend our homes visually into their environment. Another good reason to use native plants is that when they reproduce and spread, which all plants do, their impact is positive on the environment. When some plants from far-away places set seed and spread, it can have a very negative impact.
Most non-native species, termed “invasive exotic,” were originally brought into the country by the horticultural and agricultural industries, and the USDA. Since many have amazing ornamental value, it is understandable that people would want them in their gardens. Numerous exotics have native counterparts--plants which naturally occur in a given area and belong to the same genus but do not flower as heavily, as often or as dramatically as the exotic species. A common garden plant (which can become incredibly “weedy” or, in horticultural terms, “invasive”) is Lantana camara. People chose this plant because it flowers profusely and attracts butterflies. Its native counterpart, Lantana involucrata produces much smaller flowers and is less colorful.
So why wouldn’t a gardener want to use the more showy species? It is important to know that every choice we make has an impact on our environment, whether we see that impact or not. On a recent expedition doing botanical inventory work for Sarasota County’s sensitive lands program, Selby botanists came across a huge thicket of Lantana camara growing wild and unchecked in a hammock in the middle of nowhere. Probably covering an eighth of an acre and full of fruit, this Brazilian native was thriving in our Florida growing conditions, not missing its natural pests and predators, chipping away at the food chain, and shading out what should have been a very diverse understory. At Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, please check out our lovely display of the native Lantana involucrata in our Butterfly Garden and on Palm Avenue just south of the Mansion.
Text: David Troxell