654 Leonotus leonurusCommon Names: lion's ear, wild dagga, lion's tail Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Lion's ear is a shrubby, semi-woody, perennial or a semi-evergreen subshrub that gets up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall with a spread of 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m). Lion's ear has numerous erect, straight stems that bear whorled clusters of orange-red, two-lipped, tubular flowers from summer until early winter. Each flower is about 2 in (5.1 cm) long and the rounded clusters about 4 in (10.2 cm) across. The clusters are arranged on the stems one above another. The flowers are densely hairy on the outside of the tube, and said to resemble the ear of a lion. Like most mints, lion's ear has opposite leaves and the herbaceous (non-woody) new growth has stems that are square in cross section. The leaves are mildly fragrant and linear to lance-shaped, 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) long, with scalloped margins. The cultivar 'Harrismith White' has white flowers.
Lion's ear, Leonotis leonurus,is native to South Africa, where it grows in grassy areas, scrublands, and along road sides. It was one of the first South African flowers to be brought back to Europe for cultivation, and is known to have been grown in Holland in the 1600's.
CultureLight: Full sun. Moisture: Once established, lion's ear is drought tolerant. Do not over-water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Lion's ear will usually survive zone 8B winters, but it loses it leaves after a frost. Propagation: Usually grown from seed, lion's ear also can be started from softwood cuttings in late spring or summer.
Lion's ear is usually grown in a mixed shrub border or butterfly garden. It is a striking plant in bloom, and looks good in a mass or grouped with other butterfly-attracting shrubs like the shrubby salvias (Salvia spp.), bottlebrushes (Callistemon spp.) and butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii). Lion's ear is fairly salt tolerant and a good shrub for coastal gardens. Prune to encourage more flowering stems. Lion's ear can be pruned back heavily.
There are about 30 species of Leonotus, most native to South Africa. One, also called lion's ear (L. nepetifolia), is an annual with flowers very much like this lion's ear, and occurs as a weed in subtropical areas world wide, including most of Florida.
For millennia wild dagga, as this plant is also commonly called, has been used in Africa for medical purposes, shamanistic rituals and as a euphoriant. Wild dagga extracts, flowers and foliage are now sold as legal substitutes for marijuana (Cannabis sativa).
Steve Christman 3/24/00; updated 3/5/04, 3/15/09