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What’s Blooming in Paradise — Sea Lavender (Argusia gnaphalodes)

By Staff | Mar 3, 2011

First impression: Teeny, tiny white flowers with dark red centers in squeezed-together clusters at the end of each branch. The leggy, long branches are covered with soft, plump succulent leaves in a silvery gray color. Our shrub has an herby look to it with fuzzy narrow leaves arranged in a whorl pattern. This mature plant is dramatic and noticeable covering an area of eight feet across and five feet tall. The fruits are concealed ripening amongst the flowers — less than pea size and corn yellow. I detect no fragrance, but I see butterflies and pollinators all around. You can see this Provence wanna-be blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Sea Lavender is a fabulous, yet under-used, garden addition. It is a must-have plant for any butterfly garden. Butterflies love-love-love any nectar from its tasty little flowers. I enjoy watching oodles of Queen and Gulf Fritillary butterflies hovering, basking and sipping on one flower to the next. On sunny days I routinely find them congregating at the Sea Lavender all day long!

Even though, it has an herby look and name, it hails from the Borage plant family and is not related to lavender. It is known for its front line status on coastal areas, making it a survivor in harsh seas and sands. It can grow up to 4-6 feet tall and really wide (up to 15 feet) with an erect to sprawling type manner. Slow growing, with long, pale “sucker stems” at the bush’s base. The limbs are easily buried by sand or dirt, giving the impression that one plant is several plants. The leaves and stems on the underside of the plant usually will turn black, shrivel and fall off. This causes the bush to be scraggly, hollow and dark underside, while topside is grey, dense and attractive. This natural den-like undergrowth is protective shelter for birds, turtles, rabbits and wildlife. The plant’s habit is multi-stemmed with simple thick silvery soft leaves. The upper leaves are closer together at the tip, creating a lovely whirly effect. The white cyme flowers are so teeny, but create a great display due to their denseness. They have a dark crimson nectar guide in the center, to direct pollinators to their sweetness. The fruit creates interest with a yellow to black dot color change. The seeds are under a floret-shaped top in a dark chocolate color.

Simultaneously, fruit, flower and seed occur all year round. Unfortunately, our star is on the endangered list. It is a plant that requires patience, to look its best. All efforts should be made to include Sea Lavender in our gardens. Gardeners can be frustrated with its black hole like look at times. I have embraced its uniqueness, and will plant new Sea Lavender plants in the holes, trim, etc. It will grow on a wide variety of soils and sand, but cannot tolerate wet feet. I began my love of Sea Lavender, with the first plant I purchased from the SCCF Native Plant Nursery. Its native status puts it in the easy nature and lack of pests/disease category. It’s made for our tropical climate with its drought tolerance and need for full sun. Do you have a hard time growing anything in that sunny spot? Try planting our star and see what happens!

Pros: Does well in sandy soil – Likes full sun – Easy to maintain/prune – Pollinator attractor – Salt tolerant – Neighbors will wonder where you got the lavender – Great for a cottage garden look – Gives garden an herbal essence – Drought tolerant – Native – Easy care – Fruits and flowers at same time – Wildlife love it – Great for hard-to-grow-anything coastal areas.

Cons: Can get leggy – Slow grower – Pollinator attractor – Cold sensitive – Dies back and needs cleaning – Can be finicky and not sprawl where you want it to – May lose objects in your own Black Hole – Root rot when over irrigated.

Conclusion: What a great addition to any garden, this wide spreading dramatic, shimmery shrub will bring the French countryside to your back yard. Follow the ooh-la-las to our tropical garden in paradise.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!