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Lantana

Lantana camara close up

Lantana camara plant

Creeping lantana

Lantana garden hybrid

Lantana garden hybrid fruiting

Poison peach (L) & lantana (R)

Plectranthus graveolens

 


family

Verbenaceae (verbena)

status

Lantana (Lantana camara) is listed as a Weed of National Significance. On the south coast, all lantana species are declared noxious in class 3 in Bega Valley and Eurobodalla LCAs and in class 4 in Shoalhaven and Illawarra LCAs. No lantana species or hybrids can be propagated and sold in NSW. The smaller mauve-flowered creeping lantana (Lantana montevidensis), has been a popular garden plant in the past, but can no longer be sold. Each LCA will have a policy about removal of existing plants from gardens. While not yet weedy in southern NSW creeping lantana has become invasive in south-east Queensland. Lantana hybrids, which are billed as sterile and unable to escape from gardens, are also not legal to grow.  Pollen from these plants can pollinate nearby weedy lantana plants and vice versa, potentially adding genetic characters to the wild type which could make it even weedier, for example by increasing its tolerance for frost or drought.  So-called sterile garden hybrids have been seen carrying fruit.

Description

Lantana forms a large intricately branched shrub, which may sometimes climb into trees. Stems are square in profile, with small prickles, and leaves are arranged in opposite pairs. The leaves are broadly oval, rough to the touch with short hairs, with finely toothed edges. They have a strong smell when crushed. Flowers are usually a mixture of cream, pink or orange, numerous in small rounded heads. Fruits are small fleshy berries in clusters, green ripening to black.

Preferred habitat and impacts

Lantana prefers moist soils and a warm, humid climate, which restricts the areas it can invade. It is abundant in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, and on the good volcanic soils and mild maritime climate of Mt Dromedary in Eurobodalla, but uncommon further south. It generally occurs along the edge between forest and cleared land, and in paddocks is often associated with rock outcrops. It comes up under trees, where birds deposit the seeds, but does not do well in dense shade.
Lantana castes a dense shade which suppresses all other plants. It may also release chemicals from the leaves or roots which suppress the growth of other plants. It can alter the soil chemistry so that remaining trees do not thrive. It can entirely take over the understorey of disturbed eucalypt forest and rainforest, and climb to a height of 10m or so in the remaining native trees, shading their foliage as well.
The plants are highly flammable, and may become a fire hazard in dry conditions. It can erode rainforest stands by carrying fire into the rainforest edges.
Lantana is poisonous to stock, and humans, and reduces carrying capacity in pasture.

Dispersal

Birds and foxes. Clumps increase in size from seedling growth along the edges, by suckering from the roots, and by ‘layering’, or taking root where stems contact the ground. It can grow from stem fragments if these are deposited on moist soil, for example, by slashing.

Look-alikes

Lantana is unmistakable in flower, but the leaves are a little similar to the native shrub or small tree poison peach bush (Trema tomentosa var aspera, formerly Trema aspera). It has similar raspy textured oval leaves, but they are smaller and narrower than those of most lantana and arranged alternately on the stems, not in opposite pairs. It also has black berries, but they are not in compact clusters like lantana fruits. The 4th photograph shows poison peach bush leaves on the left and lantana on the right. The native herb cockspur flower (Plectranthus graveolens) could be mistaken for a young lantana plant. It has the square stems, opposite, oval toothed leaves, and is aromatic when crushed. It grows in association with rock outcrops in similar locations to lantana. It can be distinguished by being velvety hairy on the leaves and stems rather than roughly hairy. The flowers are small and blue, in elongated spikes.

Creeping lantana (Lantana montevidensis) is a low growing plant to about 0.5m high with mauve flowers and much smaller leaves than Lantana camara, often with a purple tinge to the foliage.

Lantana hybrids look very similar to Lantana camara, but often have uniformly coloured flower heads, rather than heads composed of a mixture of pink and yellow flowers. Common colours are yellow and orange. The bushes have a more compact form than the weedy lantana.

Control

Seedlings and smaller plants, particularly the straggly specimens which grow in deep shade within forest, can be hand-pulled or dug out. Cut and paint plants growing amongst native vegetation. Spray dense infestations, or plants in pasture. Suckers are likely to arise from the roots and will need follow-up work. The splattergun method of herbicide application has been used with considerable success on lantana. This applies small quantities of more concentrated herbicide to the
foliage using a larger droplet size and if carefully done, creates less
damage from spray drift onto nearby native vegetation.

Burning and spraying of regrowth may also work, in situations where burning would be safe. Hot fires have been shown to kill mature plants, whereas they will re-sprout after a cooler fire. Seedling growth and re-sprouters after fires would need follow-up.