Monday, October 8, 2012

Is it Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear?

You be the judge. To my eye, it doesn’t look like either, but those are the common names of Leonotis leonurus. The blooms are fuzzy orange (it is perhaps the color of a tiger) and they emerge from one-inch globes. I saw it today for the first time in a greenhouse at N&M Herb Nursery (you can find the nursery at the Beaverton Farmer’s Market, Yard, Garden & Patio Show and many specialty plant sales). My nursery-visiting, more knowledgeable companions on the other hand were familiar with the plant. The native southern Africa plant looks tropical and it is: it’s hardy to zones 8-10 (or zone 11 depending on the information source). Fuzzy tubular orange flowers appear in tiered whorls late in the season (the photo was taking Sept. 26, 2012). It prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade.

Inland it is a 3-6 foot tall by 2-4 foot wide woody sub-shrub with medium-dark green leaves that are aromatic when crushed. I didn’t try crushing them so don’t have first-hand experience; however, it is a member of the mint family. Nor did I try smoking it, but according to Plants Delight Nursery’s online catalog, “...Leonotis produces the chemical leonurine which, when smoked (especially the flowers), provides a euphoric feeling. We think growing the plant is euphoric enough. This multi-tasking plant can also be used to treat headaches, fevers, coughs, dysentery, snakebites, and an array of other ailments. How have you lived without a leonotis?” It is also deer resistant, a characteristic that is increasingly valued in many parts of the US.

Once again, I’m amazed at and grateful for the diversity of plant life on this planet!

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