740 Leonotis nepetifoliaCommon Names: annual lion's ear, lion's ear Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Annual lion's ear is an erect, loosely branched annual that can get 8 ft (2.4 m) tall in its single growing season. The stems are strongly angled (square in cross section) and the leaves are in pairs opposite each other. The leaves are smooth with coarsely toothed margins, triangular in shape and 2-5 in (5.1-12.7 cm) long. The flowers are borne in rounded, spiny clusters, 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) across, that encircle the stems so that it looks like the stems are growing right through the middle of the clusters. As the stems elongate, new flower clusters continue to develop above the older ones. The tubular flowers that peek out of the spiny heads are orange and furry, like a lion's ear, so they say. The flowers are about 1 in (2.5 cm) long and curve downward.
Annual lion's ear, Leonotis nepetifolia, was originally native to tropical and subtropical Africa, as are the 30 other species in the genus. However, it is now naturalized all over the world in appropriate climates, where it grows along road shoulders, in abandoned fields and in disturbed areas. Annual lion's ear occurs throughout Florida and much of the American south. It is listed as an invasive garden plant in Australia and a pest plant in Hawaii, but annual lion's ear is not really a serious pest in most areas, because it mainly grows in areas already highly disturbed, or where the original vegetation has been destroyed, and it doesn't seem to displace native species.
CultureLight: Full sun to intermittent shade. Moisture: Annual lion's ear grows rapidly and vigorously with regular watering, but still hangs on during drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Annual lion's ear reseeds itself and is capable of maintaining a self sustaining population in USDA zones 8-11. In cooler areas where the growing season might not be long enough for seeds to mature, it will have to be planted each spring. Propagation: Annual lion's ear is easy to grow from seed, and under favorable conditions will self sow.
Annual lion's ear is a coarse textured, rather gangly plant and not well suited for formal or very tidy gardens. It is great, however in a butterfly garden or a naturalized shrub and perennial garden, especially behind shorter, bushier plants. Annual lion's ear is tall and slender, and looks good behind salvias and butterfly bushes. The flowers are produced up high, above most of the other annuals and perennials. The hummingbirds really love this plant. They hover next to a flower or even perch right on a cluster and drink for 10 seconds or more at a time, longer than at most any other kind of flower. The hummers keep coming back to the pretty orange flowers all day long.
Annual lion's ear is carefree and easy to grow, and an absolute favorite with hummingbirds. The seedlings are easy to identify and it is not hard to keep this semi-invasive weed under control.
The flowers of annual lion's ear are very similar to those of its relative, lion's ear (L. leonurus), which is a very attractive ornamental shrub for zones 9-11.
Steve Christman 7/7/00; updated 3/5/04