Here’s another hardy wildflower of Costa Rica that can be grown at home. Lantana (Lantana camara) or soterrey, as it is known in Spanish, is found in pastures and along roadsides in most parts of Costa Rica.
Its attractive yellow, orange and red flowers stand out amidst the greenery of the countryside and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
This plant is found throughout the neotropics, as well as in the West Indies and the southern United States. Its opposite, serrated leaves have a strong but pleasant aromatic odor, and are born on square stems, a characteristic of the Verbenaceae family to which this plant belongs.
Most commonly you will find specimens growing less than one meter tall; however, in abandoned fields they often become tall bushes with prickly stems. The young flowers with four lobed petals are yellow, turning orange and red with age. They bloom most of the year and make a nice addition to any flower arrangement with their bright, cheery colors.
The flowers produce green berries, which turn to blue or black when mature, and for this reason lantana is often called cinco negritos by the Ticos. These seeds can be collected to plant in the home garden, or you can take woody stem cuttings for vegetative propagation.
The cuttings can be started in prepared potting soil, either in pots or flats, kept moist to ensure good rooting. Once the new cuttings are well rooted and have good foliage, they can be transplanted to the garden or kept in pots around the home. They do well in full sun with average soil and watering. Pruning helps to keep the plants compact and blooming.
Nurseries sell several different species of lantana with pink, white or lavender flowers, which can complement your collection of lantanas.
A word of warning: even though locals may tell you that lantana can be used as a medicinal plant for a number of conditions, researchers have found that this plant contains several toxic components that can cause skin irritations when used externally, or nausea, vomiting and weakness when ingested.
Remember, there are plenty of safe, nontoxic medicinal plants to use in Costa Rica instead of lantana. Ginger for colds and flu, aloe for skin problems and mint for digestive conditions are just a few of the safe and proven herbal aids you can use from the home garden.