How to Grow and Care for Lion's Tail

Lion's tail plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Standing in the moist grasslands of South Africa, a common sight could be a green bird with pretty pearlescent feathers, the South African Sunbird, darting from one tall orange flowering plant to another. These flowers known as lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) are attractive to birds and butterflies in home gardens too. The South African shrub is a very appealing food source, with its bright red-orange blooms full of nectar. The colorful flower on its statuesque stalk makes a valuable ornamental statement in any landscape.

While lion’s tail makes a great pollinator and has become esteemed for its ornamental value, it is most famed for its use in traditional herbal medicine. Whether growing lion’s tail for ornamental horticulture, supporting pollinators, or as an addition to a medicinal herb garden, there are lots of reasons to try to plant this exotic looking shrub in your warm-weather garden.

Botanical Name Leonotis leonurus
Common Name Lion's Tail, Wild Dagga
Family Lamiaceae
Plant Type  Shrub
Mature Size 4-6 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-drained, loamy, sandy
Soil pH Neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Varies
Flower Color Orange
Hardiness Zones 8, 9, 10, 11
Native Area  Africa

Lion's Tail Care

This flower is relatively easy to grow in a subtropical setting. In more temperate regions, it is still possible to grow Leonotis leonurus as an annual. Depending on which approach is taken, care of the plant will change.

Closeup of Lion's tail plant

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Clump of lion's tail plants

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Flowers of wild dagga, lion's tail

AlexeyMasliy/Getty Images


Leonotis nepetifolia thrives in full sun and will produce more blooms than if in a partial shade setting.


The shrub is not picky, but lion’s tail prefers loamy, sandy soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.


Lion’s Tail will grow faster and flower for a longer time with moderate watering during winter and spring. Mature plants do well with deep watering during the summer months.

Temperature and Humidity

Lion’s tail will be damaged at 20 degrees Fahrenheit and below and should be considered as an annual or container plant in locations that experience temperatures that dip to that range.


Fertilizer is not necessary with Leonotis nepetifolia. It grows as a wildflower in South Africa and is often found in poor soils in its native habitat.


Perennials should be deadheaded after blooming, and just prior to this time is a good point to collect flowers for herbal tea.

Lion’s Tail should be cut back hard in preparation for the first frost. The next season should bring vivacious growth that invites butterflies and hummingbirds.

Propagating Lion's Tail

When starting to grow lion’s tail, it may be hard to grow the plant from anything but seed as locating plants in the nursery trade is very difficult. Once established, however, propagation can also be done by greenwood cuttings.

How to Grow Lion's Tail From Seed

Be sure to purchase the seed for Leonotis leonurus, not Leonotis nepetifolia (commonly known as klip dagga or lion’s ear). This is a plant in the same genus that looks very similar but is a different species entirely. Leonotis nepetifolia is more easily found, less expensive, less potent as an herbal remedy, and less hardy. 

Once located, the best way to grow lion’s tail is to start indoors by seed in late winter until ready to plant outside after the last frost. 

Potting and Repotting Lion's Tail


Common Pests and Plant Diseases

How to Get Lion's Tail to Bloom

Common Problems With Lion's Tail

  • What is lion's tail used for?

    Leonotis leonurus, like other plants in the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, is highly valued for its medicinal properties. Lion’s tail has concentrations of a chemical compound called leonurine. This compound is extracted easily in water and can be made into herbal tea.

    As with most plants in the Mint family, this flower also contains very high levels of marrubiin. This bitter compound, commonly found in herbal remedies, is often associated with plant-based cure-alls, and for good reason. Research shows it is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal.