How to Grow Lion's Tail

Flowers of wild dagga, lion's tail


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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 also 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. 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 a 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.

Although lion’s tail is foreign to most in the United States, the ingredient marrubiin is not. The compound is also found in large concentrations in the herb white horehound (Marrubium vulgare), which is known to be the active ingredient in the classic alcoholic medicinal herbal remedy Rock and Rye. This has been used in the United States for over a century for calming nerves or for curing physical ailments.

South African healers have also been using Leonotis leonurus, also known as Wild Dagga, to treat the sick for thousands of years.

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
Plant Type   Broadleaf Shrub
Mature Size  4-6 ft. Tall
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Average, medium, well-drained soils
Soil pH  Neutral to slightly alkaline
Bloom Time  Seasonal Bloomer, varies.
Flower Color  Bright orange
Hardiness Zones  8-11, USDA
Native Area   South Africa
Toxicity  If ingested in high quantities

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.

Light

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

Soil

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

Water

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°F and below and should be considered as an annual or container plant in locations that experience temperatures that dip to that range.

Fertilizer

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.

Is Leonotis nepetifolia Toxic?

Lion’s Tail is used as a herbal remedy in traditional medicines, but it is considered toxic in high concentrations. Consult a doctor before using a herbal or non-traditional remedy. 

Pruning

Perennials should be deadheaded after blooming, and just prior to this time is a good point to collect flowers for herbal tea. The shrub can be shaped and pruned at this time too.

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

Growing Lion's Tail From Seed

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.

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, and is less potent as a 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.