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Plants and Prose

Author of 'Exodus' Honored by Plant?

Leon Uris (1924-2003) wrote the epic Exodus about the founding of the State of Israel. You probably never read it but you might have seen the movie with Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and the ill-fated Sal Mineo (poor guy, a roller coaster ride through Hollywood, then murdered during a botched burglary in his late 30's).

Until the end of the 20th century, I thought author Uris had a plant that was named in his honor: Leonotis leonurus. I figured the change of spelling at the end - from "is" to "us" - was some Latin mannerism.


As featured in last week's blog, here's a close-up of a leonotis flower head. Despite my tendancy towards hyperbole, come late fall, this plant lives up to the hype. photo credit: Andy Carvin, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Andy Carvin, NPR

Leonotis leonurus is a South African mint family member otherwise known as Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga, though I've never heard it called anything but leonotus (leeya NOtice). A valuable medicinal (I think it's particularly popular in South America), the trade calls it a "tender perennial" so you'll still buy it in the hopes that it won't die come winter, but for most of you it's going to be an annual.

Give your leonotis space and sun and behold summer in October. photo credit: Andy Carvin, NPR hide caption

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photo credit: Andy Carvin, NPR

I garden in Z8 where my leonotis has been surprisingly reliable year after year. Or it was before Zoe Mae moved in. Alas, she has chosen that exact spot where dear Leon is growing to plant her four padded feet and stare down anything that walks down the street.

How 'bout those buds? Like I said, whorls in tiers and a square stalk. photo credit: Velveteen Swirl hide caption

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photo credit: Velveteen Swirl

This, of course, is unacceptable. Such a plant deserves much, much better, simply incomparable for the late fall garden when everyone but salvia's petered out.

And it's color! Pure, thirst-quenching orange. If you didn't know better, you'd think the plant in full flower was a fake: densely clustered spider-legged whorls of flowers growing in tiers along a square-stemmed stalk.

Check and see what others' experience with this plant has been in your area if you're skeptical, but I can't imagine you'll regret giving it a try. Once upon a time I tried a cultivar named 'Staircase' or 'Ladder' or Giraffe Legs', who the hell remembers, it was a towering 8' but way too lanky.

Stick with Leon's namesake.