Lantana became a favorite greenhouse plant in the 18th century. This plant was such a desired species that many new varieties were bred, resulting in hundreds of cultivars available for sale in the European market. The newer cultivars were introduced to several countries on a regular basis, assisting in the worldwide distribution of Lantana.
Lantana is a perennial, erect or prostrate shrub growing to 6 feet or more in height. Leaves are ovate in shape, oppositely arranged, commonly 6 inches long and 2 ½ inches wide. To the touch, lantana leaves feel like fine sandpaper or a cats tongue. Leaf blades are serrate and have an aroma when crushed or rubbed. Flowers of lantana are clustered at the tip of stems. Small, multicolored flowers change color over time from white to pink or lavender, or yellow to orange or red. Typically the more mature flowers are darker in color (lavender and red). Fruit of lantana is tiny (0.2 inches in diameter) and round.Initially green, the seeds will change to a deep purple and eventually black color.
In Florida, lantana can grow in a variety of areas including forests, roadsides, pastures, and citrus groves. It thrives in shaded or sunny, moist or dry locations. Lantana continues to be sold as an ornamental plant in garden centers and nurseries throughout the U.S. Through wide cultivation and establishment in the landscape, lantana is able to spread and survive by escaping from home landscapes.
Preventing seed production is a very important step in lantana management. Removing flower heads prior to seed set will greatly reduce the number of seeds released into the seed bank, as well as reduces the number of seeds available for spread by birds or other animals. Homeowners can also help prevent the spread of lantana by removing plants from their landscape, and not purchasing plants from garden centers. An additional consideration is the removal of seeds prior to ripening.
Weeds such as lantana generally invade open or disturbed areas – following a burn, clearing mowing, etc., so these areas are particularly vulnerable to invasion. Maintaining a healthy ecosystem with an abundance of native plant species will help deter infestations of lantana. Seeds may be hand picked from shrubs and discarded properly, however this may not be a realistic or cost effective tactic for larger infestations.
Fire, dozing or stick-raking, and slashing or cutting can reduce dense infestations. These tactics can make spot treatments with chemicals more economically effective. Part of a management plan to control dense infestations includes the use of fire. A suggested control program is:
There are also some biological controls under consideration control of lantana as there are very effective biological control agents available for this species. Over 20 biocontrol agents have been released to control lantana in Hawaii with varying results. The most effective are the defoliating caterpillar Hypena strigata; the seed-destroying fly Ophiomyia lantanae, and the lace bug Teleonemia scrupulosa. Due to popularity of this species in the ornamental industry, the release of biological control agents is controversial.
Glyphosate is marginally effective as a foliar spray and regrowth is common. Fluroxypyr (Vista) plus aminopyralid (Milestone VM) at rates of 2.6 pt and 7 oz/A, respectively, applied twice within 6 months is effective, but costly. Fluroxypyr or imazapyr applied as a basal application is consistently effective. However, mowing and spraying the freshly cut stumps is the easiest application technique and requires the least amount of herbicide.