Growth: Erect, loosely branched annual that can get 8 ft tall. The stems are starkly square and leaves are smooth, with toothed margins, and oppositely arranged. The flowers are inside ball like clusters, 2-4 in, circling the stem. “The tubular flowers that peek out of the spiny heads are orange and furry, like a lion’s ear, so they say.” (1)
Native to subtropical Africa, Leonotis does very well in our Central Florida climate. It has a sister, Leonotis leonurus, that looks very similar and is also heavily planted in Central Florida gardens. L. leonurus has much fuller and fuzzier flowers.
The name Leonotis means Lion’s Ear. The specific epithet, nepetifolia, is a nod to the leaves’ similarity to that of Nepeta cataria, common catnip. Nepeti- meaning catnip like, and -folia meaning leaves!
The leaves of Leonotis nepetifolia make a pungent tea – made the way you’d make a mint or a catnip tea. Antioxidant levels are being studied in this species, with promising results. (2) According to that study, “L. nepetifoliais known in Trinidad as shandilay and the leaves are brewed as a tea for fever, coughs, womb prolapse and malaria”