10/01/2013 - 10/31/2013
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Attributes: Lion’s Tail, a late-blooming tropical shrub of he mint family (Labiatae) is grown as an annual in our climate. The 4- to 4.5-foot tall plants are quite striking when in full bloom from October until frost (usually some time in November). This South African native has square stems, typical of the genus. Leaves are simple, opposite, serrated on the edge and about 2 to 2.5 inches long. The bright orange blossoms closely resemble Monarda or Bee Balm (another mint family relative) are carried in profusion often 3 or more per stem, one on top of the other. The effect is quite impressive when combined with other warm colors in a bed or border.
Growing Tips: In the past we have tried to grow this plant as a tender perennial and kept it in a greenhouse over the winter. It presented a number of challenges; while indoors it seemed to be plagued with spider mites and other insect pests. This past spring, we grew them from seed started in a greenhouse after the first of the year and planted the seedlings in their permanent location outdoors in mid-April. The plants grew quickly in a sunny, fertile position and are now covered in bloom. Cool nights and short days seem to improve the intensity of their color. Landscape Value: Since this is a fall bloomer, it needs to be in a mixed planting where other plants will provide the summer-time show. I know of no other plant that packs such an intensive punch of orange to combine with fall colors of mums, salvias, asters and other stalwarts that bloom at the end of the gardening season. During the summer, it gives the appearance of a medium-textured green shrub to provide a backdrop for earlier blooming specimens.
Location in the Garden: Lion’s Tail can be seen blooming in the two beds on either side of the long fountain in the Four Seasons Garden at MBG.
Rick Pudwell is director of horticulture at Memphis Botanic Garden. Previous articles by Pudwell are at memphisbotanicgarden.com.