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Biodiversity Blog


Shrubs of BFL: Texas lantana

Photos: Larry Gilbert


This ubiquitous native low shrub is hard to miss. Part of the verbena family, those red, orange, and yellow blooms appear when the weather in Central Texas becomes close to unbearable. The scientific name is Lantanta urticoides, however it often gets confused with Lantana horrida, the name inspired by its strong odor that can be irritating to some. The leaves may also cause a mild skin rash for some as well. Natively, Lantana urticoides grows in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, but Lantana horrida has not been documented north of Mexico.

Lantana flowers support bee populations that use nectar in honey production. They also provide food for butterflies common to our area like hairstreaks, skippers, sulphurs, and swallowtails to name a few. Those flowers become green berries and birds are about the only thing that can eat them. These unripe berries are poisonous to livestock and humans. The berries become deep purple-black when ripe, and may look appetizing. Some accounts state these are safe for human consumption and are eaten by various societies around the world, but since the partially-ripe berries are toxic and potentially lethal, it's best to just leave the berries for the birds!

There is more than meets the eye with the attractive blooms of lantanas. The tiny individual flowers are tube-like corollas with five-lobbed petals. They come in a variety of colors, and what is interesting to note about the corolla color is that as the plant ages, the flowers’ colors change. Driving this change are pollinators. Pollination triggers the colors on wild lantanas to change from yellow to red. Studies have suggested that yellow attracts pollinators to flowers yet to be pollinated more strongly than red does.

For gardeners, lantana is considered a tough xeriscape perennial that thrives in Central Texas’ challenging climate. It doesn’t mind drought, loves heat, is somewhat more tolerant to pests than most garden plants. However, the lantana lace bug (Teleonemia scrupulosa) does feed on the underside of the plant, causing leaves to become patched with white and brown damage. The plant will usually stop blooming in this state. You can see this damage on many of the landscape lantanas currently growing on campus. Historically, this bug has been released as a biological control in areas where lantana was considered invasive.

Lantana species tend to hybridize in the world where they co-occur, which makes individual plants hard to identify. Additionally, cultivated varieties that escape into the environment at places like Brackenridge Field Lab are horticultural selections with characteristics not exactly like those in the wild. Both this variety and our Texas native grow at BFL, primarily in the old pasture zone and open sunny areas on the upper terrace.  

Thanks to George Yatskievych, Curator in the Billie L. Turner Plant Resources Center

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