In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2004
Regional Report

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These flower stalks of lion's tail resemble their namesake.

Garden Volunteers and Lion Tails

I'll never be accused of being a tidy gardener. I like profusions of plants billowing over sidewalks and each other. I don't clip and snip to make everything even, and I'm a terrible thinner. I can think of 279 things I'd rather do than pull out volunteer seedlings that come up on their own accord in less-than-perfect places.

Instead, I'm grateful when another sort of volunteer — a Master Gardener — helps out in the bulb demonstration garden that I loosely oversee at Cooperative Extension. Last week, strong-willed (dare I call them ruthless?) Master Gardeners yanked excessive calendula that popped in profusion after recent winter rains. The seedlings were crowding out the lycoris and crocosmia foliage, so it was a good thing the Master Gardeners took control. I told them to pull at will, but to please leave the towering lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) standing. These perennials are amusing plants that generate a lot of interest from visitors, and I like anything that reminds me of cats lounging in the garden.

A Conversation Piece
Lion's tail is not a typical understory plant, such as alyssum, for a bulb garden. It easily reaches 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide. These particular plants are self-sown, traveling across the road from the nearby herb demonstration garden where the plant had grown several years ago. Last year the bulb garden had one volunteer lion; this year it supports a pride. The giant flower stalks feature whirls of orange flowers spaced every 6 inches or so. The whirls resemble the fluffy end of a lion's tail. Every time I am in the garden, someone stops to ask the name of these plants, and many happily leave with a few seeds tucked into a pocket.

Providing seeds is no problem, as they produce prolifically. Seeds start drying at the top of the spherical flowerhead, while the petals continue growing around the middle and base through the long growing season. When the top is brown, the stalk can be gently bent over and seeds tapped out into a bag or one's hand.

I've been warned by a much tidier gardener than myself that the garden will be overrun if these wild lion's aren't tamed. I'm not worried. I enjoy the appearance of both kinds of volunteers!


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