x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Plant Library: Lantana camara

This beguiling plant is invasive and poisonous, but is easy to care for and thrives in full sun.

Boil Lantana leaves for an aphid insecticide. Getty Images / Gallo Images
Boil Lantana leaves for an aphid insecticide. Getty Images / Gallo Images

It is strange how many of the most beguiling plants are also the most dangerous. With lantana, however, the threat comes not from the plant's deadly poisonous berries but the fact that the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as one of the world's most invasive alien species of any type, alongside Japanese knotweed, the cane toad, and Dutch elm disease.

Lantana is a significant weed of which there are some 650 varieties in more than 60 countries. It has established itself and spread internationally, often as a result of forest clearance for timber or agriculture. It can grow individually in clumps or as dense thickets, where it crowds out more desirable species.

In disturbed native forests it can become the dominant understorey species, disrupting succession and decreasing biodiversity. At some sites, infestations have been so persistent that they have completely stalled the regeneration of rainforest for three decades.

An undemanding plant, lantana thrives in full sun, is drought tolerant and will even tolerate poor soils thanks to its strong root system. It propagates easily from cuttings or seed, flowers quickly and will produce a vigorous, bushy plant that can easily reach two metres.