Lion’s paw shares holiday table with familial daisies, sunflowers

Lion’s paw shares holiday table with familial daisies, sunflowers

Rarely do I see a plant that blooms so long and is so totally easy to care for. My new best friend is officially called “leonotis leonurus.” Even for those who don’t know Latin, like me, you can see some version of the word “lion” in that name. “Lion’s paw” is the most common name for this herbaceous perennial. You may also know our jungle beauty as “lion’s ear,” “lion’s tail” or “wild dagga.”

The lion’s paw is a member of the Asteraceae family, as are daisies and sunflowers. They used to be used in folk medicine as a remedy against abdominal and respiratory diseases. Many websites tell us that this species was originally cultivated as a medicinal herb. The Hottentot tribesmen of South Africa use wild dagga as an inebriant. The Chinese and Vietnamese use it fairly extensively in traditional medicines.

The lion’s paw has bright orange flowers at the end of the stems that resemble outward arching lion claws. Their flowers are so bright that you can see them from the road. And, boy do those butterflies love them. It’s not uncommon for me to see dozens of fluttering butterflies hovering in and out of those orange blooms. Here in Texas, we can consider it a perennial, while up north it won’t make it through the winters.

The blooms continue for months with color all summer and way into the fall. And when they are not blooming, they make a great thick hedge. This showy plant can reach 5 feet in height so it is perfect along a fence, along a wall or in the back of a planting area.

If you want a splash of color around the landscape, find yourself some lion’s tail plants. They want to be planted in a spot that gets at least six hours of full sun per day. They love to be planted in late fall. Follow these classic planting rules: Dig the hole slightly wider and the same depth as the nursery pot, then slide the root ball out of the pot. Place it upright in the center of the hole then backfill the hole. Pat the soil down and water the soil to the depth of the planting hole. Water when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch throughout the growing season. You can cut the lion’s tail back in winter by using sharp shears or clippers to give ’em a haircut. Mulch is good to regulate soil temperature and help insulate the roots during cold weather. You can use a slow-release fertilizer in the spring to wake them up.

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