Lantana Plants

Bring a Little Piece of Florida to Your Own Landscaping

A lantana plant with a deep orange flower is pictured in this image.
David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of Lantana Plants

Plant taxonomy classifies lantana plants as Lantana camara. Various cultivars are sold, including the 'Spreading Sunset' cultivar, which has a flower head with gold centers surrounded by orange. This orange color later fades to pink.

Lantana plants are evergreens of the broadleaf variety. Although they may act a little like vines, they are classified by botanists as, technically, shrubs.

 But because of the vine-like appearance of their branches, they are often grown in hanging pots, in which their branches are allowed to spill over the sides.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, Plant Characteristics, Growing Tips

Lantana plants can be grown as evergreen perennials in USDA planting zone 8 and higher. These flowers are not native to Florida but have become naturalized there and are widespread. In fact, the shrubs are considered invasive plants there and in certain other warm regions. In more northerly zones, they are treated as annuals. 

They are known for their rounded clusters of small, brightly-colored flowers. The flowers may be yellow, orange, white, red and purple, and often colors are mixed within the same cluster, creating a bicolored effect. Most people dislike the smell of the flowers. But the aroma of their foliage qualifies them as fragrant plants, in the view of some gardeners.

The leaves smell, in fact, like citrus.

Lantana plants can reach 6 feet high (with a spread of 8 feet) in a Florida landscape. They are salt-tolerant, making them popular in beach communities. They are also drought-tolerant once mature. Grow​ lantana in full sun. These flowers want well-drained ground but will tolerate poor soils.

They are sometimes called "verbena bushes", although nurseries selling them in hanging baskets do make a distinction between lantana plants and verbena (the latter also being a popular plant for hanging pots). Evergreen perennials in hot regions, they are more often grown just for the summer months in colder climates. The purple variety (L. montevidensis) is even more vine-like than the rest, and, consequently, it is a better hanging plant.

Northerners sometimes wonder if they can be taken indoors in fall and overwintered as houseplants. The answer is yes and no. Yes, they can be overwintered inside, but they do not thrive as houseplants. It is better to place them in an unheated room for the winter and keep them in a dormant state, providing just minimal light and water. The temperature of the room should not dip much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wildlife Attracted by Lantana Plants, Uses in Landscaping

Being plants that attract butterflies, they are a staple of butterfly gardens. They also attract hummingbirds.

Lantana plants make good specimens. They are also used as border shrubs and as a ground cover in areas with full sunshine in the South. They tolerate salt spray very well, so they are popular in yards located near the ocean.

This is another reason why they are a symbol of Florida landscaping. Because lantana plants are also drought-tolerant shrubs, they are good candidates for xeriscaping. In the North, where lantana plants are treated as annuals, they are also commonly found growing in hanging baskets. Displayed this way, they can be used to decorate porches, decks, patios, etc.

Problems

While lovely to look at, growing these flowers in your landscaping has its problems. Besides being invasive in warm climates, lantana plants are toxic and present a danger to children and pets. The leaves can cause a rash, and eating the unripe berries can be fatal. For Florida landscaping, proper, less invasive cultivars may be purchased at nurseries for you to grow in your yard.