Lantana rugosa Thunb.
Common names: bird’s beer, bird’s brandy (Eng.); voëlbrandewyn, wildesalie (Afr.); sekwebetane (isiNdebele); utyani-bentaka, utywala bentaka (isiXhosa); impema, ubukhwebezane, ubungungundwane, uguguvama, umkhukhuthwane, utshwala benyoni (isiZulu); mabele-mabutsoa-pele, molutoane (Sesotho).
From a distance, if it looks like the famous fever-tea or lemon bush plant (Lippia javanica), it is most likely Lantana rugosa. Sadly, sharing the common name bird’s brandy with its notorious and invasive sister plant from America, Lantana camara, but with smaller leaves, compared to the broader leaves of Lantana camara. The common L. rugosa has a wide southern African distribution and, with its characteristic wrinkled leaves, possesses both ornamental and medicinal properties, making it a worthwhile plant to have within the garden.
Lantana rugosa is a hardy, evergreen, much-branched, aromatic shrub, with rough, square-shaped stems and wrinkled leaves. This woody perennial, grows up to 2 m high. Leaves opposite, ovate to lanceolate, upper surface highly fissured giving the plant a characteristic venation. Inflorescence borne on short peduncles in the leaf axils, forming spikes of pink-purple flowers in spring and summer (around September to May), giving rise to small, green, rounded fruits that turn purple at maturity. The plant is a fast grower and can survive in various extreme conditions.
According to the Red List of South African plants, Lantana rugosa is assessed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Lantana rugosa is distributed entirely in all 9 Provinces of South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland (Germishuizen & Meyer 2003). The plant thrives in moist soil and riverine vegetation, but also grows in various Biomes, ranging from grasslands, woodlands and rocky outcrops, at altitudes of 100–1 550 m (Fernandez 2005). Lantana rugosa is highly drought and frost tolerant, maintaining its evergreen colour throughout, however, it loses some of its leaves in winter.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Lantana belongs to the Verbenaceae family, which is made up of 35 genera and over 1 200 species. The genus name is derived from the epithet of Viburnum lantana, because of the close resemblance of their inflorescences and opposite leaves. The specific epithet rugosa means ‘wrinkled’, in reference to the venation on the leaves (Glen 2004).
The genus Lantana comprises of about 150 species, distributed in the tropical regions of America and Africa. Some species were also introduced in the Pacific-Australian regions. The most recognized species within the genus include, Lantana camara, L. macrophylla and L. undulata, which are used in Asian folk medicine for the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, coughs, lung diseases and rheumatism (Silva et. al. 2018). The creeping lantana (L. montevidensis) with its previously desired ornamental and horticultural value, has made it to the list of the most notorious weeds in New South Wales, Australia (Johnson & Lisle 2006).
The plant produces small, bright purplish berries which are eaten by both birds and monkeys, and people, however, its toxicity remains debated. The plant also produces bright pink flowers which attract insects for pollination and the insects are thus food for the birds.
In South Africa, various indigenous cultures prepare a paste using either leaves or fruits of Lantana rugosa for the treatment of sore eyes (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962; Mabogo 1990; McGaw 2008; Papo 2017). The paste of L. rugosa is also used in the Zulu folklore for treatment of festering sores (Hutchings 1996; Suliman 2010; Mabona & Van Vuuren 2013). L. rugosa can be grown as a garden plant around property edges to give that green colour backdrop, impenetrable hedge, and to fill gaps between beds.
Growing Lantana rugosa
Lantana rugosa is an ornamental and medicinal plant, and can be used as filler between beds, or planted to create a hedge to cover walls. The plant can be grown along with lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia).
Sow seeds in a well-drained soil in full sun to semi-shade exposure. Water frequently until the plant has become established. To encourage bushing, prune the plant after seeding in winter.
For propagation by cuttings, take cuttings from the non-flowering branches of Lantana rugosa, dip into a rooting hormone and plant in pot or tray, filled with perlite and peat moss. Place the tray in a plastic bag situated next to a window that has filtered light and in a few weeks, roots should have formed. Remove the rooted cutting from the bag and plant in full-sun.
- Fernandes, R. 2005. Verbenaceae. Flora zambesiaca 8(7): 20, 21.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Lantana rugosa Thunb. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/07/08
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Glen, H.F. 2004. What’s in a name. Jacana, Johannesburg.
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Johnson, S. & Lislie, S.D. 2006. The problem with Lantana montevidensis (creeping lantana). Fifteenth Australian Weeds Conference, Adelaide.
- Mabogo, D.E.N. 1990. The ethnobotany of the Vhavenda. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.
- Mabona, U. & Van Vuuren, S.F. 2013. Southern African medicinal plants used to treat skin diseases. South African Journal of Botany 87: 175–193.
- McGaw, L.J. & Eloff, J.N. 2008. Ethnoveterinary use of southern African plants and scientific evaluation of their medicinal properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 119 (3): 686–699.
- Papo, L.A. 2017. The ethnobotanical, antimicrobial and phytochemical screening of selected medicinal plants from Ga-Mashashane, Limpopo, South Africa. M.Sc. Dissertation, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg.
- Silva, L.D., De Oliveira, F.F., De Oliveria, R.A., Fernandes, M.J.B. & da Conceição, A.O. 2018. Phytochemical, cyctotoxicity, antiherpersviral comparison between three Lantana species. Asian Journal of Science and Technology 09 (10): 8722–8726.
- Sulieman, S., Van Vuuren, S.F. & Viljoen, A.M. 2010. Validating the in vitro antimicrobial activity of Artemisia afra in polyherbal combinations to treat respiratory infections. South African Journal of Botany 76: 655–661.
- Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1932. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern Africa, edn 1. E. & S. Livingstone, London.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Acknowledgements: The author thanks Geoff Nichols for providing pictures of Lantana rugosa.
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy