1296 Lavandula stoechasCommon Names: French lavender,Spanish lavender Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
French lavender is a bushy little shrub or sub-shrub that gets just 2-3 ft (60-90 cm) tall with a similar spread. The evergreen leaves are fuzzy and grayish green. They are linear in shape, arranged in opposing pairs, and about an inch and a half (4 cm) long. The inflorescence is an erect oblong spike a little more than an inch (2.5 cm) tall and borne on a short stalk a little above the foliage. It consists of densely packed dark purple flowers with several big bracts standing above the flowers like floppy purple rabbit ears. The individual flowers (tiny, but rather typical of mints in general) are tubular with two lips, the upper lip 2-lobed and the lower lip 3-lobed. Leaves and flowers are aromatic. The related English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) lacks the big floppy earlike bracts on the flower cluster.
Several subspecies of French lavender are recognized based on technical details of the flowers and leaves. The variety, ‘Alba’ has white flowers; ‘James Compton’ is taller, to 3 ft (1 m) or more, and has dark purple flowers with lighter purple bracts; ‘Merle’ is smaller and compact with very long rabbit ear bracts; and ‘Papillon’ has bright purple flowers with long narrow bracts.
Lavandula stoechas is native to the Mediterranean region, especially near the coasts. Botanists recognize at least four subspecies with non-overlapping ranges from Portugal to Turkey. In the wild, French lavender occurs in hot, dry, often rocky habitats, in full sun. The species has become an invasive weed in parts of Australia and in southern Europe.
Light: Grow lavenders in full sun. Moisture: The lavenders do best in very well drained soils with only moderate watering. They thrive in hot, sunny climates and will die if the soil is too moist. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. With protection from the coldest wintertime temperatures, French lavender likely can be grown in Zone 7B. Propagation: The tiny seeds may be sown in containers in spring. Semi-ripe stem cuttings can be rooted in spring and summer.
Lavenders are used in rock gardens, as low edging and in flower beds. No herb garden is complete without at least one of the lavenders. The fragrant gray foliage is reason enough to have French lavender in the garden, and the striking purple flower clusters seal the deal. Thriving with little care, French lavender can be especially useful in dry climates and where supplemental watering cannot be offered. They are not at all picky about soil pH, either. French lavender blooms in spring and should be judiciously pruned back after blooming in order to maintain a nice, compact shape that will draw attention to the attractive grayish foliage for the rest of the year. Where not hardy, French lavender is grown in a sunny location in a pot to be brought inside in winter.
Dried lavender flower clusters and leaves excel in sachets, potpourris and dried arrangements. Cut the inflorescence before the flowers are fully open for best results. People used to spread the dried flowers on the floor for the pleasant smell and to keep insects away. Lavender bags, filled with dried flowers and foliage, are often hung in linen closets or placed in clothing drawers to deter moths and infuse a pleasant fragrance. In France, lavender is used as a flavoring for fish and baked dishes, but many Americans find the taste too bitter.
For centuries oil of lavender and the dried flowers have been added to bath water, placed in pillows and made into a tea to promote soothing relaxation. Before soap was widely used, people bathed with lavender water. (The name comes from the Latin for washing: lavare.) Perfumes are made from oil of lavender which is distilled from the flowers of this species as well as the related English lavender. Both species are cultivated commercially, especially in southern Europe, for the perfume, cosmetic and soap industries. Bees are attracted to the nectar-dense flowers.
With its big rabbit ear bracts, French lavender has the most strikingly attractive flowers of all the 25 species of lavenders. That may be reason enough to have it in your garden, but the pretty silvery foliage and distinctive fragrance doesn’t hurt.
Steve Christman 9/22/17