Plant of the Week: Spanish Lavender
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Plant of the Week
Latin: Lavandula stoechas
While I often bemoan the vagaries of our weather, there are some positive things to say about mild winters. The 2011–2012 winter that wasn’t has resulted in an exceptionally good bloom display for some plants, including Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas).
Lavenders are plants with that I mostly only have nodding acquaintance because, as Mediterranean plants, they are generally disdainful of cold, wet winters and summertime humidity. But, if sited correctly and with a bit of luck, they can persist in the garden for a time.
About 25 species of lavenders belonging to the mint family are described with English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and selections of its hybrid progeny L. x intermedia primarily used as an essential oil in fragrant products such as soaps, lotions and perfumes. While occasionally used in cookery, it is most often thought of for its fragrance.
Spanish lavender, sometime also called French lavender but that name is best reserved for L. dentate, grows as an 18- to 24-inch-tall and 2- to 3-foot-wide mounded, evergreen semiwoody shrub. Its fragrant, gray-pubescent, linear leaves are about an inch long and arranged in 4-ranked file on the four sides of the square stem.
The flower is distinctive amongst lavenders and appears as a tight 1.5-inch long, unbranched, pinkie-sized terminal cluster of flowers, technically known a verticillaster, that produces a cluster of lavender to purple petal-like bracts at the top.
To those with a good imagination each inflorescence looks a bit like a tiny purple pineapple. It is one of the first lavenders to bloom with flowers appearing in mid to early April here in north Arkansas. Springtime is peak bloom but as long as it is growing it will continue to produce blooms through the summer.
Spanish lavender is native from Spain to Turkey and into North Africa. It was probably the lavender used in Roman baths. The name for the plant is based on the Latin word “lavo,” meaning to wash or bathe and is probably a reference to the oil used in soap making. The oil content of the Spanish lavender is not as high as the English lavender.
Getting a Mediterranean plant to live in a region with a continental climate such as we have here in Arkansas requires careful site selection. Mediterranean climates – think southern California – have intense sunlight, mild, arid climates with rainfall coming during the winter months and hot dry summers. Our continental climate has rain throughout the year with considerably colder winters.
Lavenders, including Spanish lavender, are usually considered cold hardy to around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, making them a zone 8 plant. I have grown several species, including the French lavender, when temperatures have fallen much lower. The secret seems to be to provide a full sun location with really sharp drainage and good air circulation around the plant during the summer. During the summer irrigation must be done with moderation. In the winter good drainage is essential. Raised beds with a high proportion of sand or gravel in the bed will help assure good wintertime drainage but makes summertime watering a bit trickier. In their native habitat, Spanish lavender is found in poor, rocky sites with slightly acidic to neutral soil pH.
There are a number of clones of this species offered, including one called ‘Otto Quast’ being one of the most common. It is a California selection that seems to be more cold-hardy than the typical form and is said to be hardy to 5 degrees. A white flowered form is also listed.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - May 4, 2012
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.