Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the verbena family, Verbenaceae. They are native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa but exist as an introduced species in numerous areas, especially in the Australian-Pacific region. The genus includes both herbaceous plants and shrubs growing to 0.5–2 m tall. Their common names are shrub verbenas or lantanas. The generic name originated in Late Latin, where it refers to the unrelated Viburnum lantana.
Lantana’s aromatic flower clusters are a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white florets. Other colors exist as new varieties are being selected. The flowers typically change color as they mature, resulting in inflorescences that are two- or three-colored.
Wild lantanas are plants of the unrelated genus Abronia, usually called «sand-verbenas».
Some species are invasive, and are considered to be noxious weeds, such as in South Asia, Southern Africa and Australia. In the United States, lantanas are naturalized in the southeast, especially coastal regions of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and the Gulf Coast.
The spread of lantana is aided by the fact that their leaves are poisonous to most animals and thus avoided by herbivores, while their fruit is a delicacy for many birds, including the yellow-fronted white-eye of Vanuatu, the superb fairy-wren in Australia, the scaly-breasted munia, and the Mauritius bulbul in the Mascarenes; these distribute the seeds and thereby unwittingly contribute to the degradation of their home ecosystem.
Biological control of introduced lantanas has been attempted, without robust success. In Australia, about 30 insects have been introduced in an attempt to control the spread of lantanas, and this has caused problems of its own. The lantana bug for example is a polyphagous species introduced in 1995 that feeds on dozens of plants, and not only has it failed to have a noticeable impact on the lantana population, it has even become a pest in horticulture, parasitizing the related fiddlewoods. The small Lantana-feeding moths Epinotia lantana and Lantanophaga pusillidactyla, while not becoming pests, have nonetheless failed to stem the spread of the invasive weed, as has the lantana scrub-hairstreak butterfly which was introduced to control lantanas on the Hawaiian Islands.
Other Lepidoptera whose caterpillars feed on Lantana species include the common splendid ghost moth, Aenetus scotti, Endoclita malabaricus, Hypercompe orsa and the setaceous Hebrew character. The swamp wallaby is one of the few mammals that eat Lantana leaves without apparent ill effect.
Lantanas are useful as honey plants, and Spanish flag, L. lilacina and L. trifolia are sometimes planted for this purpose, or in butterfly gardening. Butterflies which are attracted to lantana flowers are most notably Papilioninae. Hesperiidae and certain brush-footed butterflies, as well as some Pieridae and Lycaenidae, also like to visit the plants’ flowers. Consequently, as total eradication of Lantana seems often impossible, it may in many cases be better to simply remove plants with immature fruit to prevent them from spreading.
Some weaverbirds, e.g. the black-throated weaver and the streaked weaver, highly value Lantana flowers for decorating their nests. An ability to procure spectacular and innovative decorations appears to be desired by females, and consequently is an indicator of the males’ fitness.
Ceratobasidium cornigerum is a higher fungus which parasitizes Lantana among other plants. The sweet potato whitefly is a common greenhouse pest and is often distributed with infested lantanas.
Lantana species, especially L. camara, contain pentacyclic triterpenoids that cause hepatotoxicity and photosensitivity when ingested by grazing animals such as sheep, goats, bovines, and horses. This has led to widespread livestock loss in the United States, South Africa, India, Mexico, and Australia.
Lantana species are widely cultivated for their flowers in tropical and subtropical environments and in temperate climates.
Most of the plants sold as lantana are either Spanish flag, or trailing lantana. Numerous cultivars of the Spanish flag exist, including ‘Irene’, ‘Christine’ and ‘Dallas Red’ and several recently introduced shorter ones. The shorter cultivars may flower more prolifically than the taller ones. Lantana montevidensis gives blue flowers all year round. Its foliage is dark green and has a distinct odor.
Although lantanas are generally hardy and, being somewhat toxic, usually rejected by herbivores, they may still become infested with pests.
The edibility of Lantana berries is contested. Some experts claim Lantana berries are edible when ripe though like many fruit are mildly poisonous if eaten while still green. Other experts claim that experimental research indicates that both unripe and ripe Lantana berries are potentially lethal, despite claims by others that ripe berries are not poisonous.
Extracts of Lantana camara may be used for protection of cabbage against the aphid Lipaphis erysimi.
The Soliga, Korava and Palliyar tribal people of the MM Hills in southern Karnataka, India use lantana to produce roughly 50 different products. It is considered a «near match» to highly priced alternatives, cane and bamboo. Furniture made from lantana is resistant to sun, rain, and termite damage.