The Verbena family includes 36 genera and 1035 species native to the tropical Americas. Among these, the genus Lantana includes 140 species of shrubs, aromatic herbs and a few rare lianas. The cultivated varieties of Lantana that reach horticultural markets and household gardens are all hybrids of two species, Lantana camara and Lantana montevidensis.
Before his death in 1733, English physician and botanist William Houstoun introduced many lantanas to England from the tropical Americas, especially the West Indies, where he worked as a surgeon. Houstoun’s Lantana trifolia reaches 6 feet and bears pink to light purple flowers. Trifolia is native throughout the New World tropics including Mexico, the Indies, Cuba and South America. In South America, Houstoun collected Lantana annua, now called Lantana rugosa. In Jamaica, he collected Lantana stricta, a 1-to-3-foot herb. The Royal Gardens at Hampton Court cultivated Houstoun’s 'White Sage' shrub Lantana involcrata by 1690.
Seeds of Lantana fucata were brought to Scotland from San Salvador, Brazil, in 1823 by gardener and collector George Don. George Don collected throughout South America and Africa. He was a son of the George Don who was principal gardener at the Scottish Horticultural Society’s Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Lantana fucata is an understory shrub that reaches 2 feet tall and bears rose to pale pink flowers.
James Edward Smith
In 1803, physician Sir James Edward Smith introduced Lantana radula to England from the West Indies. Smith studied medicine at Edinburgh and in 1784 purchased Carl Linnaeus’s entire collection and founded the Linnaeus Society of London. Lantana radula is native to Venezuela and its island neighbors of Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles.
Link and Otto
Lantana sellowiana ('Trailing Lantana') was collected in South America by Link and Otto. Sellowiana was more recently named Lantana montevidensis after Monte Video, the capital of Uruguay, where it is native. Christoph Friedrich Otto and Johann Heinrich Friedrich Link collected from 1801 to 1843 for the Berlin Botanical Gardens.
William Houstoun introduced Lantana camara ('Spanish Flag') to England from Jamaica. Camara was cultivated at Hampton Court in 1691. It was brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from America as an ornamental circa 1824 and soon became a common weed there. From Ceylon, camara went to India. By 1900, Indian foresters reported the invasion of sandalwood forests by camara, which is fire-adapted and chemically suppresses rival seedlings. By 1900, camara was invasive in Queensland, Australia. As of 2010, many biological and chemical techniques have been applied unsuccessfully against invasive Lantana camara throughout the tropics.
In 1979, one specimen of a new species Lantana pastazensis was collected in lowland forests of the upper Amazon watershed in Ecuador, near the town of Montalvo. The collection site was not within Ecuador’s conservation network, so pastazensis is considered endangered and subject to loss of habitat.