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Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus)

By: Marissa Joya

Leonotis leonurus pictured on USFCA Lone Mountain

Lion's tail also known as Leonotis leonurus is native to south and southern Africa. Its native habitat is damp grasslands. Leonotis leonurus has orange tubular flowers and produces nectar. Because of this it attracts birds like hummingbirds and butterflies. In its natural southern African habitat, Leonotis leonurus attracts birds who rely on nectar for their main source of food, nectivorous birds. Specifically, Leonotis leonurus’s orange, tubular flowers attract African sunbirds who are nectivorous. It is likely that African sunbirds and Leonotis leonurus co-evolved. African sunbirds have narrow curved bills that are very suitable for feeding on Leonotis leonurus’s curved, tubular flowers.

Leonotis leonurus is an ornamental plant. It serves a decorative purpose in gardens and landscapes. Leonotis leonurus is tolerant of extreme heat, drought, and dry soils, so it can be found in subtropical and Mediterranean climates outside of Southern Africa. It can be found in California, Hawaii, and Australia. In California, Leonotis leonurus is noninvasive and requires minimal maintenance. It is consistently colorful in dry conditions and grows well in California's soil, so it is a very good ornamental plant choice for California. Leonotis leonurus is also deer resistant.

Leonotis leonurus has medicinal properties as well. It contains the chemicals leonurine and marrubiin. Marrubiin has been shown to be an antioxidant and can protect the heart. Leonurine has antidepressant properties and can suppress nausea. Infusions made with Leonotis leonurus can treat a variety of illnesses, like jaundice, tuberculosis, diabetes, and dysentery traditionally.

It can be toxic in high doses, though. Leonotis leonurus’s anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties are subject to study, and a study found that arthritis, pain, and other inflammatory conditions can be managed with the help of Leonotis leonurus. Interestingly, Leonotis leonurus is illegal in both Latvia and Poland due to the psychoactive chemicals contained in the plant.

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