Perennial Notes Excerpts

This story first appeared in Spring 1993 Perennial Notes, Volume VIII, No. 1. It is appropriate to offer it again as the Georgia Gold Medal Committee chose 'Miss Huff's' Hardy Lantana as the 2003 Perennial winner.

Miss Huff's Hardy Lantana
Lantana camara 'Miss Huff'
By Sue Vrooman

Lantana camara 'Miss Huff'
Photo Credit: Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery

At last an answer for the perennial perennial question has been found. Now, when challenged for the name of a perennial plant with summer long bloom, you can answer without a stammer, " 'Miss Huff's hardy lantana - it's a gem of a plant." Old timers recognize this reference both to its virtues and to its original owner's first name, Ruby. Now with your reputation as a punster and knowledgeable perennial gardener firmly established, you may want to share the following information about this wonderful plant.

'Miss Huff's' hardy lantana is a small shrub that dies to the ground in winter and is used as a perennial in our area. It is drought tolerant and sun loving, but will tolerate up to half a day of light shade. Though drought-tolerant, adequate moisture does give more bloom. At four to five feet high and equally as wide, it is a plant that enjoys mid-border placement. Its form is irregular to mounding with medium textured foliage. Additionally, some find the smell of the bruised foliage and its slightly prickly stems unappealing, which is another reason for siting this plant at mid-border. This versatile lantana is also suitable for raised planters, pots, and sandy seashore conditions. Additionally, it can be used as a deciduous ground cover and is particularly good on rocky slopes.

The species Lantana camara to which 'Miss Huff's' lantana belongs grows as a native plant all the way from tropical South America northward to southern Texas. Its common names include yellow sage, ham-and-eggs, and shrub verbena. With flowers resembling small verbenas in size and form, its membership in that family is a give-away. As with verbenas, the flowers form clusters that are displayed from early summer to frost. As it ages each flower cluster tends to change color from yellow to orange to pink. Since each of the flowers in a cluster opens at different times, the whole range of color sequence is always present. The plant thus assumes a tri-colored look with a primary color being orange. For this reason use this lantana in a color scheme as you would an orange-colored plant.

'Miss Huff's' impulsive orange looks glorious against a background of low-toned greens. It is likewise stunning with purple or bronze-leaved plants like one of the orange-flowered, purple-leaved cannas (Canna x generalis); copper fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var purpureum); or, annuals such as perilla (Perilla frutescens) and 'Purple Ruffles' basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Purple Ruffles'). Plants with gray foliage like lambs ears (Stachys olympica syn S. byzantina) and Artemisia 'Powis Castle' make this lantana's flowers appear pure and brilliant while separating it from those colors with which it might war. 'Miss Huff's' lantana blends beautifully with shrubs like yuccas, junipers, or deep purple-flowered butterfly bushes. It can also be used as a bright complement to ornamental grasses. Obviously, this is a plant with which to have fun.

Conventional in-ground planting with this plant is only one option as the marvelous 'Miss Huff' is also a star in containers. Malcom Hillier suggest selectively pruning lantana to desired size and then underplanting them in a large pot with variegated Swedish ivy or one of the other variegated trailers like golden feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium 'Aureum') and the tiny silvery-leaved plecostachys (Plecostachys serpyllifolia). Creeping thymes would work equally as well. Remember to give this lantana at least a half-day of full sun in good potting mix and to fertilize it sparingly every two weeks. You may tip-prune at any time to encourage flowering, but it isn't necessary. Remember though, if you choose to plant 'Miss Huff' in a container, it will not overwinter out of the ground.

The subject of over-wintering brings us to why 'Miss Huff's' hardy lantana is different from other Lantana camara. This lantana, if planted in soil with reasonable drainage (no water saturated winter soils please!), left with old wood intact until new growth starts in the spring, and mulched with pine straw, will reappear yearly as far north as Canton, Georgia. It was this plant's annual reappearance in Miss Huff's front yard that alerted Rick Berry and Marc Richardson to its potential as a perennial. Rick and Marc, the owners of the outstanding perennial plant nursery Goodness Grows, finally persuaded Miss Huff to trade cuttings with them in exchange for other plants installed courtesy of the two of them. Thanks to Marc and Rick's discernment and their willing backs, this fine plant is now available to all of us.

One often-unsung attribute of 'Miss Huff's' is that it is irresistible to butterflies. During the middle of the day at the height of the nectar production, there are often dozens of these delightful creatures flitting about the plant. In my yard the bright tawny orange Gulf Fritillary is its most frequent visitor and this combination of plant and winged creature frequently gives the impression that the lantana's orange flowers have themselves taken flight.

Finally, you may ask, "What are 'Miss Huff's' drawbacks?" These few have been noted. It may get red spider mites or white flies, especially when crowded, although I've never had either problem. One writer reported occasional mildew. Its berries are poisonous when eaten and therefore it should not be used where little children or grazing animals may ingest them. However, in my opinion, its virtues far outweigh any of these possible drawbacks. I simply wouldn't garden without it.

* Sue Vrooman is the curator of native plants at The Atlanta History Center.