Part of the mint family, lavender grows in many different species, including some hybrid varieties, which range widely in height, flower colors, foliage characteristics and colors, shape and blooming seasons. Because many of the main lavender varieties have such differences in appearance and flower fragrance, you can easily distinguish between them. Identifying specific hybrids is trickier, however, because they are often too similar in appearance and scent to the parent species. Simply use your nose and eyes to identify lavender plants.
Identify English lavender (L. angustifolia) by its sweeter fragrance with less of a camphor odor. You can also identify English lavender by its bloom period, which begins in early summer.
Spot spike lavender (L. latifolia) by its superficial resemblance to English lavender, but with a more camphorous fragrance. The spike lavender flowers later than English lavender and is less cold-tolerant. It has distinct, marked, long lateral branches that make the plant look like it has wings.
Spot Lavandin (L. x intermedia) by its hybrid characteristics between the English and spike lavenders. Look for the Lavandin’s long, greenish-gray leaves and rounded appearance. Its long spikes of dark violet to white flowers emit a strong, sweet and slightly camphorous fragrance.
Look for highly-compressed flower spikes with large, showy but sterile bracts to identify the Spanish lavender (L. stoechas). The Spanish lavender is much less hardy than English lavender and its blooms emit a rosemary-lavender scent. This lavender variety is known for its early bloom spurt in mid-spring in mild climates, followed by a normal blooming period beginning in early summer.
Identify French lavender (L. dentata) by its bright green leaves that have “toothed” leaf margins. The French lavender isn’t as fragrant as other lavender species, but it certainly more colorful. The entire plant appears silvery-grey because of all the fine, soft hairs that cover the plant. The French lavender has medium-length spikes, or inflorescences, with compact flowers in light purple and light lavender-blue colors.
Look for finely separated foliage and small purple flowers set atop long stems to identify fernleaf lavender (L. multifida). This plant has fine, dense hairs with strong, earthy-scented foliage, and reaches only one and one-half feet in height.
Use your nose to identify green lavender (L. viridis), which has bright-green, pine-scented foliage that begins to smell like rosemary-lavender when brushed. The compact blooms are creamy yellow and greenish-yellow, making the entire plant appear green.
Keep an eye out for intense blue flowers and foliage with a grey, “felt-like” appearance to identify L. pinnata. Pinnata lavender also has a trademark pungent pine scent with a blooming season in late winter.
Look for dense hairs heavily covering foliage and producing a whitish coloration to spot the woolly lavender (L. lanata). The spikes are bright violet on woolly lavenders, but the strong camphor smell that verges on a menthol scent is the real distinctive attribute. Conversely, L. Sawyers has a very pleasant fragrance and looks more like a rounded bush. Sawyers lavender has dense silvery-white foliage and vibrant purple spikes.
- The L. Richard Gray is a dwarf cultivar and is silvery-grey and rounded. If you see deep-purple, velvety spikes surrounded by a strikingly silvery-white bush, you've found the L. Silver Frost.
- Allardi (L. x allardii) is a hybrid of French lavender and it's difficult to distinguish between the two, except for allardi lavender's impressive height of four to five feet. Sweet lavender (L. x heterophylia) is also a hybrid, with violet blooms but otherwise very similar to French lavender's appearance and scent.
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