Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aromatic weed : Lantana

YOU CAN smell out a Lantana camara (Common name: lantana) from quite a distance, literally. The fragrance of the flowers of this evergreen shrub from the tropics spreads far and wide, and attracts hordes of butterflies. Belonging to the Verbenaceae family, it is a shrub native to Central and South America. The shrub, which once grew on the fringes of forests, has now invaded interior areas, thanks to its ability to inhibit the growth of other plants. It is also widespread in the plains, growing almost everywhere without much effort.
The shrub, which grows to a height of two to five metres, has been cultivated for more than 300 years now and has hundreds of hybrids. The flowers sport brilliant colours. From yellow to pink to orange and flaming red, the plant is a multi-hued carpet.
Some tribes eat the fruits. The fleshy drupe is 3-6 mm in diameter and contains 1-2 seeds.
The fruits mature rapidly and change colour from dark green to black.
Its stems and leaves are covered with hairs and are rough in texture. This plant has a distinct smell. And a tendency to escape cultivation. Lantana has managed to survive for so long in the forest thanks to herbivores' dislike of them.
But, of late, cattle have learnt to thrive on their alkaloid-rich leaves, due to the dwindling grasslands in the forest. Since it tolerates shade, it has become the dominant undergrowth in open forests.
In homes, it is often used as an ornamental shrub, planted as hedges.
Lantana is regarded as a cosmopolitan weed. It also forms extensive, dense thickets in forestry plantations, orchards and wasteland.
In Indian sandalwood forests, the shrub competes with the tree crop as well as favours the spread of the sandal spike disease.
To raise it at home, plant a seed in a pot mixture of red soil, sand and manure. The hardy plant grows in all climes. The seeds are not available in shops, but you could ask someone visiting the hills to get you some.

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