Lantana Camara (Camarophyllum) is a flowering plant native to South America. It’s known as “The Flower of Brazil”. Its leaves are long and slender with white flowers that resemble tiny bells. The plant grows up to 3 feet tall and has red berries. The flowers bloom from late April until early June when they drop off and die down. They produce small yellowish green fruits which contain seeds similar to those of the common bee balm or sunflower. The fruit contains only one seed. The plant produces numerous seeds throughout its life span. It is considered a pest because it can cause damage to crops if not controlled. The plant is invasive and was introduced into the United States in 1873 from Brazil where it had been cultivated since prehistoric times.
In the wild, lantana camara has few natural enemies other than birds, insects and fungi that feed on the seeds. However, it is sometimes grown commercially for ornamental purposes. Commercial growers have found that the plant attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Bees are attracted to the flowers but do not lay their eggs there; instead they build hives near the flower clusters. When these hives mate, the male honeybees deposit their pheromones onto female worker bees that fertilize eggs laid by queen bees at another hive nearby.
The plant was introduced into Australia in the 1800’s as an ornamental garden plant. In subtropical and temperate parts of Australia, it has become an invasive species, widely regarded as an Australian weed. It is considered a noxious weed in some regions and its sale or propagation is banned. The plant’s habitat has spread from its original area in southern Australia to other states (despite government-led eradication programs) including coastal areas around Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Invasive species such as lantana camara cause serious problems for Australian ecologies. The lantana plant spreads quickly and out-competes native species, causing extensive harm to the ecosystem. A particular problem is that lantana can block light to other plants, which stops them from growing altogether. Lantana Camara is poisonous to livestock.
In some areas, lantana camara is also grown in a more managed way. For example, it is sometimes planted as a honey plant for the production of pine honey. In this situation, beekeepers are able to harvest and sell the pine honey, whilst also controlling the lantana Camara’s spread.
Lantana camara is a poisonous and toxic plant. Its leaves, flowers, roots and berries contain toxins that irritate the digestive system. Ingesting as little as 15g of the plant can be fatal to an adult human. The plant is not recommended for use in teas or salads. The toxin acts on the heart, causing arrhythmia.
It is not possible to determine whether a plant is toxic until it is ingested.
The toxin is not destroyed by heat and can remain in the plant even when it is dried. It is also difficult to remove the toxin from contaminated water. The toxins are not passed on to animals that eat the plant. Cattle, horses and other animals can safely eat the plant. The toxin is not present in the meat of animals that eat the plant or its byproducts.
The toxin acts as a sedative on insects, fish and birds. Bees are especially sensitive to this compound. As a result, bees do not gather as much pollen from lantana Camara. This can affect the quality of honey produced from lantana plants.
Despite the fact that it is poisonous, animals often eat the plant when other food is scarce, such as during droughts. Native Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus and dingoes are especially susceptible to the plant’s toxins.
The toxin in lantana Camara is similar to the drug Meprobamate, also known as Equanil, Miltown or Lemmon 7. It is a popular sedative in the late 1940’s. The drug works by disrupting the transmission of nerve impulses. It is used to treat anxiety and stress-related disorders.
Meprobamate is one of the ingredients in the infamous ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ cocktails that were popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The cocktails were used by housewives to help them deal with the stress of day-to-day life. The cocktail typically consists of a mixture of drugs, including Meprobamate, sedatives and tranquilizers. The cocktails were blamed for many problems in American society during this time. They were seen as one of the factors that led to the rise in divorce rates, as women became too reliant on the pills and unable to enjoy life.
It is unknown whether meprobamate is the actual active ingredient in lantana Camara. The plant’s other toxins might be causing the sedative effects rather than meprobamate itself. To complicate matters, meprobamate is also produced by another native Australian plant, the prickly poppy. Meprobamate is in fact also used to treat headaches and can be found in some over-the-counter headache medicines. It is also possible that lantana Camara’s toxins can lead to dependency and may serve as a treatment for anxiety disorders.
The plant is used by Australian Aborigines to treat a number of conditions, including skin ulcers and broken bones. The leaves are used for treating fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.
Despite its toxicity, lantana camara is sometimes used as an ingredient in some perfumes. It is used as a flavoring agent in some cigarettes and cigars. It is also used in the production of chewing gum.
In California, lantana Camara is listed as a noxious weed. It was first introduced to the state in the 1850’s as a decorative garden plant and spread rapidly. It can now be found growing wild along roadsides and in vacant lots. The weed uses its toxins to protect itself from being eaten by herbivorous animals. As a result, animals such as gophers, mountain beaver and deer avoid eating it.
Despite the fact that the plant is poisonous to most animals, some grazing animals have adapted to the toxins. Cattle, goats and sheep can safely eat the plant and gain some protection from predators as a result of eating it.
The nectar produced by lantana Camara is not poisonous. As a result, it is attractive to many different types of insects, including ants, wasps and bees. The plant’s sweet scent may help disguise its bitter taste.
Lantana Camara has few natural predators in Australia, but the plant is vulnerable to some diseases that affect its growth and survival.
Fungi such as Phomopsis sp. can cause premature leaf death. It is spread through the air and spores can remain viable for up to ten months. This fungus thrives in humid conditions and it is common in areas with high rainfall. In some cases, the leaves of infected plants turn completely yellow and brown.
Lantana Camara is also susceptible to a virus known as lantana mosaic virus. It causes mottling on the leaves and deformed growths. The virus is only spread by sap-sucking insects, such as aphids.
Some plants have been bred to be free of toxins and are known as the “laceflower.”
Lantana Camara is also vulnerable to some invasive ants. The little fire ant and the big-head ant are both foreign species that can push out the laceflower from its habitat.
Sources & references used in this article:
Pollinator specificity in Lantana camara and L. trifolia (Verbenaceae) by DW Schemske – Biotropica, 1976 – JSTOR
Asclepias, Lantana, and Epidendrum: a floral mimicry complex? by P Bierzychudek – Biotropica, 1981 – JSTOR
Behavioral Foraging Responses by the Butterfly Heliconius melpomene to Lantana camara Floral Scent by S Andersson, HEM Dobson – Journal of chemical ecology, 2003 – Springer
Lantana invasion: An overview by GP Sharma, AS Raghubanshi… – Weed Biology and …, 2005 – Wiley Online Library
Preference of cabbage white butterflies and honey bees for nectar that contains amino acids by J Alm, TE Ohnmeiss, J Lanza, L Vriesenga – Oecologia, 1990 – Springer
Does forest gap size affects population size, plant size, reproductive success and pollinator visitation in Lantana camara, a tropical invasive shrub? by Ø Totland, P Nyeko, AL Bjerknes, SJ Hegland… – Forest Ecology and …, 2005 – Elsevier
Color-mediated foraging by pollinators: A comparative study of two passionflower butterflies at Lantana camara by G Maharaj – 2016 – irl.umsl.edu