The genus Lantana counts some species of perennial plants and shrubs, belonging to the verbenaceae family; they are native to America and Africa, but in Europe only two species are cultivated, of South American origin, and their various hybrids, produced over the years. Lantanas have deciduous, oval or lanceolate leaves, light green or dark green in color, covered with thin veins in relief, which are very wrinkled to the touch, and emanate, if broken, a strong aroma, not pleasing to all.
The many varieties present in the nursery they are of different sizes, ranging from small creeping perennials, which do not exceed 26-30 cm in height, up to real, very ramified shrubs, which can exceed one meter in height. The main peculiarity of the lantana it is represented by flowers, which bloom continuously from late spring until autumn; similar to what happens to the verbenes, also the lantana they produce small trumpet flowers, which bloom into hemispherical corymbs; the flowers begin to bloom from the lower part of the corimbo, to bloom in succession up to the top.
The particularity of the lantana is that for many varieties flowers tend to change color over the days of flowering; we will therefore often find ourselves with an inflorescence that presents, for example, red flowers in the outer part, orange in the middle part and yellow in the central part. Much of the success of the lantana is due precisely to this variety in the colors of each individual plant; there are varieties of lantana with pink and orange flowers, or white and lilac, but also lantane with a flower that is completely yellow or white, with a color that is maintained over time. The flowers are followed by small black berries, edible when they are ripe.
Most widespread speciesLantana montevidensis, or Lovenana selloviana
This lantana It is native to South America, and is characterized by white or lilac flowers; produces prostrate stems, which give rise to a very pleasant perennial herbaceous plant. Even these lantana they can't stand frost, especially if intense and persistent, and therefore, if we want to cultivate them also in northern Italy, preserving them from year to year, it is necessary to cover them in the fall, or place them in a place sheltered from frost.
The smaller dimensions allow to cultivate the Lantana montevidensis even in small pots, so that it is easier to move them to a protected place during the winter months; the lilac color of the flowers, very delicate, makes them more pleasing to those who do not like flowers of very intense color.
In the nursery we often find lantana of hybrid varieties, which originate from these two species; this type of hybridization has made it possible to create lantana with pink-toned flowers, iridescent orange or yellow, which is impossible in the lantana camara.
There lantana camara It is a semi-shrubby species native to Central America; produces inflorescences in shades of yellow, red and orange. This lantana tends, over the years, to produce a compact and dense, very branched shrub. It is a species that tolerates the cold quite well, and can therefore find a place in the garden in most Italian regions; in the north, it is a delicate plant, which must be moved to a cold greenhouse during the winter months, or risks freezing completely.
Sometimes it happens that, specimens completely ruined by the cold, tend to re-sprout when spring arrives; often though a plant so severely damaged, it tends not to produce flowers even for a few years. Therefore, in the nursery, the lantana are proposed mostly as annual plants, or it is advised to cover them with non-woven fabric during the cold season.
These perennials, or small shrubs, are not difficult to cultivate during the vegetative season; prefer very bright positions, even sunny, and if placed in a dark or poorly sunny place they tend to bloom in a contained way. They can withstand short periods of drought, but generally a long period of water translates into a few wilted flowers and leaves; then they are positioned in the shelter of the wind, which could excessively dry the soil, and they are watered regularly, every time the substrate tends to dry. We avoid however also to leave them soaked with water, which favors the development of root rots, molds and fungi, which can ruin a lantana even in a short time.
From April to September, every 12-15 days, we mix with the water of the waterings of the fertilizer for flowering plants, which will stimulate abundant flowering and lush vegetation. When autumn arrives, we prune the shrubs, shortening each branch by about a third, so as to favor the development of a denser and more compact plant. If the climate allows it, and is always kept fairly mild and humid, many varieties of lantana keep the foliage even during the winter.
Pests and diseases
Lantanas in the garden are plants that are kept in the sun for most of the day; if the climate becomes torrid and there is little ventilation, the development of some typical parasites of the summer period, such as mites or scale insects; these insects must be quickly eradicated to prevent them from becoming many and causing serious damage to the plants. Insecticides should only be used at a time of year when the plant is not in bloom, therefore it is useful to treat our invaded lantana by insects already at the beginning of spring, when their flowers are still in bloom; this prevents us from disturbing useful insects, such as bees, which gladly visit the lantana.
Other problems with lantana are generally related to watering or to the climate; in general, the hybrid varieties that we find in the garden, live well in the same area in which we grow geraniums, with which they share many cultivation needs. * / So, remember not to leave them long exposed to drought, or intense frost.
Sow the lantana
A single lantana shrub can produce hundreds of seeds in a single vegetative season; pity that these seeds tend to germinate with great difficulty, it is therefore necessary to treat them before being able to sow them. Who owns a lantana in the garden can easily declare that it is a fortune, as otherwise the whole garden invaded by the Lantana would be found in a short time. We also remember that most of the lantana found in the nursery are hybrids, and therefore we can hardly obtain a plant identical to the mother plant; more likely we will get a plant with different colored flowers from seed.
So, let's have a handful of small fruits, and let them dry in the sun, so that it is possible to separate the small hard seed from the pulp, to prevent the pulp from decomposing once it is buried, creating a good environment for the development of molds. The cleaned seeds should be dusted with a fungicide, and then placed in an airtight refrigerator bag, containing a little wet sand. This bag will be placed in the refrigerator for about 4-6 weeks, in order to simulate the winter season. When removed from the refrigerator, the seeds are placed on the surface of a small vase, filled with sand and peat mixed and moistened. The jar should be kept in a cool place, but with temperatures above 12-15 ° C, quite bright, and moist, watering regularly.
Propagate the lantanas by cuttings
Lantana cuttings prepare in summer, taking the tips of the already woody branches, preferably choosing the branches that have not bloomed. The cuttings should be about 8-10 cm long, and cut just above a leaf; the lower part must be cut into a wedge, and immersed in the rooting hormone; then we raise the leaves in the lower part and we plant the cutting in a good universal soil, wet and fresh. The cuttings so produced tend to germinate quite quickly, but they must be cultivated in pots until the following spring, so that they can be kept in a cool and bright place, and watered whenever the soil tends to dry.
Preparing cuttings is a very pleasant operation, which allows us to obtain numerous plants, starting from a single plant; this type of propagation is ideal with plants like the lantana, which are almost certainly hybrids: only the cuttings allow us to produce new plants completely identical to the mother plant.
There are many species of lantana, spread all over the world; there lantana camara It is one of the few species cultivated for ornamental purposes, thanks to the fact that it has flowers of color that varies with the passing of the days. The spread of lantana camare in the gardens of the areas where lantana are present in the wild has caused great problems to the local flora; in fact these plants tend to self sow easily in some areas of the world, where they have become a highly invasive species, so as to make native lantana species almost rare.
This event is occurring today in Hawaii, in parts of Australia and North America; also in Italy the lantana camara became naturalized, in some areas of the Sicilian hinterland, but without arousing particular concerns.
In the areas where it has become invasive, many birds feed on small lantana fruits, whose seeds are then digested, and, once they have fallen to the ground with bird droppings, tend to germinate with great ease. In addition to this, the great propensity of the lantana for hybridization has led the lantana camare to self hybridize with the native lantana, creating various hybrids: it is therefore difficult to understand if a plant belongs to an original native species, or to a new hybrid with lantana camara.
A particular name
The name Lantana was given to this plant by Linnaeus, in fact it is a name "inherited" since, the similarity of the flowers of this shrub with those of the viburnum lantana earned her the botanical name. Lantana viburnum, however, is a completely different plant from the lantana, apart from the inflorescence, which in this case is also constituted by many small flowers, which in the viburnum are white and bloom almost simultaneously; another strong resemblance is to be noted between the leaves of the two plants, which are almost equal, as are the corymbs when the flowers happen to bear fruit, in both cases we find ourselves in front of a sort of small ball, made up of tiny berries , almost black in color. Lantana viburnum is a shrub native to central Europe, with a white flower and dark green foliage, widespread in Italy even in the wild.
Berries in the garden
The tiny fruits of the lantana are slightly toxic when they are unripe, but once ripe (ie when they become black) they are edible; there are many plants in the garden that produce edible berries, even if the great availability of food has caused a total disinterest in this type of food, which grows in the garden, rather than in the garden or in the orchard.
Once upon a time, in the Italian countryside, many of the shrubs in the woods or cultivated as hedges were looted for their small fruits, which were eaten raw, or used to prepare liqueurs, compotes, or jams.
Mulberries still exist in some areas, and often still used as fruits; the large mulberry blackberries that ripen in spring are used above all in Sicily, where they are used to prepare tasty granitas and ice creams, with the typical purple color; mulberries, raw, have a very delicate flavor, which is enhanced by cooking or blending with white sugar.
Little used, often present only in herbal medicine, elderberry jam and berry juice; elderberry, a large shrub found in Italian forests, produces large umbrella-shaped inflorescences, which in summer are filled with small black berries; if consumed in large quantities they have a laxative effect, and are still used to prepare purifying jams, also used in low-calorie diets.
Other fruits in the wood are the sorbs, or small rowan berries; the rowan (Sorbus domestica) is a shrub of European origin, belonging to the Rosaceae family, like most of the most common fruit plants; the flowering is followed by small fruits similar to apples, or rather medlars, which like European medlars must rest in the straw after being picked to be eaten. Very popular in herbal medicine, but also to prepare jams, the fruit of dog roses, with a typical sour taste, rich in vitamin C, present above all dried to prepare infusions.
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