Alien bounty hunter of Lantana camara

flower heads after blossoms have fallen off
Deadheads from Lantana blossoms by Protopian Pickle Jar CC BY SA 3.0

One of the plants we grow at the children’s garden, Lantana camara, is an annual ornamental that we grow because it’s beautiful and attracts butterflies. It also smells like lemon verbena (which make sense, because it’s in the same family.) It can take the hot Kansas City summer, and will continue to produce blossoms all summer long if you remove the old ones in a process called “deadheading.” While we practice deadheading to encourage the plant to produce new flowers, it also has the side effect of reducing the amount of seeds the plant can produce and keeping berries away from kids.

Lantanas can be invasive, especially in tropical climates (like Florida) similar to its native range in the West Indies. By removing the flower heads (which produce the seed-bearing berries), we limit the spread of baby Lantana plants.

green berries of lantana after blossoms fall off
Lantana berries by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC BY SA 3.0

Additionally, lantanas are (probably) somewhat toxic to humans. By snipping off the heads bearing berries, we limit the occasions that children might accidentally eat one. How toxic are lantana really? Take your pick: Either really toxic (Wolfson & Solomons, 1964) or not super toxic (Carstairs, 2010). Some sources cite the unripe fruits as toxic. Either way, I wouldn’t eat them.

However, the removed lantana deadheads are extremely cool-looking (the berries look like praying mantis eyes!), like little lemon-scented decapitated alien heads. I kind of feel like an alien bounty hunter, gathering them to trade into the sheriff for my reward. Which of course, are new lantana blossoms.


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