One of the most widely studied invasive plants in the world, Lantana camara is found in almost every county in Florida as well as in many surrounding states. Lantana camara is native to the West Indies, and while there are a few species of lantana that are native to small, isolated areas of Florida, they are rare and not native to St. Johns County. Many homeowners are unaware of the invasive nature of this plant, and would not think twice about adding it their garden since it is readily available at garden centers and touted as a butterfly plant. They unwittingly add this Category 1 invasive species to their landscape, compounding its threat to Florida’s fragile ecosystem.
Not sure if you have lantana planted in your garden already? Fortunately, Lantana camara is easy to identify, with sandpaper-like, serrated leaves that boast a distinct citrusy aroma when crushed, and clusters of small, multicolored flowers. The flowers, which bloom year round, tend to darken in color as they mature, from yellow to orange to red, or white to pink to lavender. The tiny (0.2 inch), round green fruits morph to dark purple and eventually black.
Lantanas adaptable nature (moist to dry, sun to shade, and salt tolerant) contribute to its popularity in landscapes and container gardens, as well as its spread into pastures, forests, fruit groves, and along roadsides. A favorite among birds, this prolific seed producer (approximately 12,000 fruits per plant!) can easily transfer from your garden to natural areas. In fact, seed germination is typically low unless passed through a digestive system. Lantana is considered a bane among cattle ranchers, as the unripened (green) fruit is toxic to cattle (and other mammals such as pets and humans).
To remove lantana from your landscape, dig out the entire plant (including roots) or repeatedly mow the patch. Additionally, you can spray the freshly cut stumps with glyphosate, but repeated applications will likely be necessary.
Availability in the nursery industry does not always equate to appropriateness in our ecosystem. It is important to educate ourselves about invasive species so we can make wise decisions when designing our gardens. In recent years, researchers at UF have developed two varieties of Lantana camara that are sterile: ‘Bloomify Red’ and ‘Bloomify Rose’. If you wish to plant lantana in your landscape, seek out these sterile cultivars so you may enjoy your garden without contributing to ecological harm.
For more information on Lantana camara or other invasive plant species, visit UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas at: https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/.