Leonotis leonurus, a tropical perennial garden plant often called wild dagga or lion’s tail, is a fast-growing shrub that combines beauty with function. In warm climates, it’s a great choice as a rapid screening or filler for new landscapes that need a quick color fix. It also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies to the yard all summer long.
The plants, which belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae), produce brilliant-orange flowers in tiered whorls throughout the summer. Their shape resembles the spiked tail of a lion, giving the plant its common name. Like other members of the mint family, lions tail plants contain a volatile oil that gives them a pleasant scent when crushed or handled.
Its leaves and flowers have a mildly calming effect when drunk as tea, and can induce a feeling of euphoria when smoked. Its psychoactive and healing properties led the nomadic KhoiSan tribes of South Africa to use the plant as an inebriant on ceremonial occasions, along with brewing it into a tea to treat maladies. It’s even used as a tobacco substitute in some places. It can be very dangerous if abused, though, as it contains chemicals that interact with contemporary over-the-counter pain relievers and antidepressants.
Plant lions tail in well-drained soil and full sun, but protect it from frost and extreme heat. It can be grown as a perennial in US hardiness zones 9 through 11, but is typically grown indoors as a houseplant or brought outdoors during frost-free winters. It’s easy to propagate from seed or cuttings, which should be done in spring.