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Sea lavender a great butterfly attractant

By Staff | Sep 2, 2015

Sea lavender is a great native plant that attracts butterflies. Anita Force Marshall

Plant Subject: Sea Lavender (Argusia gnaphalodes)

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. 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 all the nectar from its tasty little flowers. I enjoy watching oodles of queen and gulf fritillary butterflies hovering, basking and sipping 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 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. It’s 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. 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. At times in maturity it appears scraggly, hollow and dark underside, while topside is grey, dense and attractive. This natural den like under growth is protective shelter for birds, turtles, rabbits and wildlife.

Sea lavender is a great native plant that attracts butterflies. Anita Force Marshall

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 continue to plant new sea lavender plants.

It will grow on a wide variety of soils and sand, but cannot tolerate wet feet. I began my love of sea lavender, with my 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 to grow anything sunny spot-try planting our star and see what happens!

Pros:

Does well in sandy soil

Likes full sun

Pollinator attractor

Salt tolerance

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

Cons:

Can get leggy

Slow grower

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 country side to your back yard. Follow the ooh la la’s to our tropical garden in paradise.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!

**Remember we have a yearly fertilizer restriction during July 1 through Oct. 2. This is a very important mandatory restriction to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into our precious waterways. Any fertilizing during our rainy season, only ends up in our water resources as unwanted algae blooms.**