Gardeners are known for occasionally throwing caution to the wind. Such was an occasion on a tour to Mississippi.
Fifty Arkansas Master Gardeners were touring Mississippi State University’s Experiment Station at Poplarville where numerous flower trials are conducted. Beautiful flowers and foliage plants were everywhere, but one bed grabbed the most attention.
These plants were at least five feet tall with a profusion of bright orange fuzzy flowers that resembled the tip of a lion’s tail; hence its name.
The exotic, round flower clusters were two to three inches across and stacked themselves every eight to 12 inches along tall stems. We were awestruck even though orange is my least favorite color in the garden.
Some gardeners had the foresight to carry empty envelopes in their handbags and collected seed. Others of us simply hoped we could find a plant to take home. Plants at this experiment station were not for sale — otherwise, the bus would have overflowed.
This shrub is not listed in any of my gardening books. But, I found the following information about lion’s tail (also known as lion’s ear) on the Missouri Botanical Garden website, which is an excellent resource:
• Lion’s tail is not hardy north of zone 8, so in the our area, it should be grown as an annual or a tender perennial in a container overwintered indoors in a bright sunny location.
• If grown as an annual, seed should be started indoors in winter or sown in the garden before the last frost date for flowering in fall.
• Cuttings may be taken in spring from overwintered plants or from garden plants in summer for overwintering.
• Lion’s tail is not particularly fussy about soil type and can grow easily in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun. It can tolerate some light shade and needs regular moisture, but be careful not to overwater.
• A native of South Africa, Leonotis leonurus comes from the Greek words “leon” meaning a lion and “ous” for tail. It is a species in the mint family and a nectar source for birds and butterflies. Deer don’t seem to like it.
• Although it has no serious insect or disease problems, beware of whiteflies and spider mites, particularly on overwintering plants.
It is described as a terrific accent, background or border plant that adds a splash of color anywhere you need it. Its showy blooms also work well in floral arrangements.
Mine will reside indoors until spring, and if it is as prolific as it was in Mississippi, there will be plenty of seed to share next fall.
Back on tour the next day, Lady Luck was with us at the Fall Flower and Garden Festival that draws 5,000 gardeners to the Mississippi Research and Extension Center Experiment Station in Crystal Springs.
This annual event included a series of lectures by experts on a variety of gardening topics, a plant doctor, skin protection/sun damage detection tips, a soil testing lab, tours of the truck crops trial gardens and vendors with plants and garden art.
We gained a lot of horticulture knowledge, both printed material as well as that absorbed by our brains. And we found a lot of plants for ourselves and to share with friends (including a five-month late birthday gift for friend Kay). The bus was so packed with our new discoveries that we stuffed as much luggage as possible in the overhead bins.
My happiness in finding lion’s tail in bloom was exceeded only by that of Jonesboro friend Mimi, whose tour mission had been to find the Pink Perfection Camellia grown by her mother years earlier in Mississippi. Mimi left the festival with a three-gallon Pink Perfection in each arm — and sweet memories of her mother’s garden.
As the clock struck noon, 50 gardeners — laden with mementoes and memories — boarded the bus for Arkansas with first-hand knowledge that southern hospitality is alive and well in Mississippi.
Next week, the topic will be: rediscovering a moment in history.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.