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Also called the Spanish Flag and West Indian Lantana, the Lantana Camara is one of several species of flowering plant. The American tropics are its native home but have been introduced to different parts of the world, including Australia. It is mainly used as an ornamental plant because of its radiant colors. In several areas with tropical and sub-tropical features, the lantana may be considered invasive.
This plant is known for its flowers when in full bloom with colors ranging from red, yellow, orange, pink, white and purple. These can reach a terminal of up to three centimeters wide. With the potential of blossoming for the whole year, the lantana is often seen and used as an ornamental plant.
The Lantana Camara is a kind of climbing perennial shrub and tends to form dense thickets. Its stems are long and weak and have a square cross section. The younger parts tend to have glands with the entire length of the stem being prickly.
Its leaves are a nice shade of matt and mid-green with deep veins and in some cases, hair sticking out. The expanded portion forms an oval shape with a pointed or broadly-rounded apex. Its base is round or has regular toothed margins. The upper surface is wrinkled and has stiff bristly hairs growing out. Crushing the leaves releases a strong and distinct odor.
Several small flowers grow inside the flowerheads. Each one is tubular in shape and usually has four petals. Flowers change with age and combine various shades of
white, yellow, pink and red among others.
Its fruit is a green drupe or berry arranged in clusters which becomes purple-black when it matures.
While it provides refuge for small birds and animals, the Lantana Camara takes over huge areas. It thrives in moist gullies, drainage lines and around wetlands. It can also climb high into treetops but no plants grow underneath.
The Problem with Lantana
Because of its tendency to become invasive, the lantana has the potential to become a serious economic and environmental problem. Nowhere is this more evident than in Australia.
The formation of dense thickets over native bush lands has an adverse effect on the native ecosystem. The plants compete for resources with other native plants in the area. As a result, the productivity of pastures and plantations is reduced. The dense thickets also present a fire hazard and can be toxic to livestock.
The lantana is considered a threat to biodiversity because of these adverse effects. Many plants and animals that need to be conserved come under threat from these plants.
In gardens, the lantana can cause problems by cross pollinating with other weed varieties. This in turn creates more resilient forms which can be difficult to exterminate.
How It Multiplies
The Lantana Camara can spread in one of two ways. Layering involves the stems sending the roots into the soil. This allows the roots to form dense strands which travel in short distances. Birds and small animals may spread its seeds in their droppings as well. The germination rate is quite low but digestion improves it.
Small insects such as bees and butterflies are attracted by the plant’s nectar. Moving from one flower to another makes pollination possible. Mature plants are capable of producing as much as 12,000 seeds per year.
On top of this, the lantana can also release chemicals which prevent germination on the ground. This effectively eliminates competition from other plants which increases its chances of developing.
What to Do
Since it is widespread, preventing the lantana from spreading more is the best way to deal with it. A coordinated plan is needed in areas where an infestation has occurred.
More often than not, this king of action calls for an integrated approach. This makes use of various methods such as herbicides, fire, re-vegetation and mechanical removal. The plan usually calls for clearing lightly-infested areas and moving towards heavily-infested ones.
Herbicides are by far the most effective means of controlling Lantana Camara infestations. Application techniques include spraying, application on the lower bark and painting it onto a freshly-cut bark. Still, herbicides can be expensive and is deemed impractical for large-scale infestations. Some application techniques are time consuming and difficult to perform as well.