isiXhosa: Utywala Bengcungcu

Afrikaans: Leeuwstert

Lion's Tail

Lion's Tail

Leonotis leonurus

Scientific name

The medium-dark green long leaves are aromatic when crushed. The plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, typical to the mint family, that encircle the square stems. They rise above the foliage mass during the summer season, with flowering continuing into winter in warmer climates.

This plant attracts nectivorous birds (mainly sunbirds), as well as ants who take the seeds away and the Bush Bronze butterfly caterpillar feed on this plant. The flowers' mainly orange to orange-red colour and tubular shape are indicative of its co-evolution with African sunbirds, which have curved bills suited to feeding from tubular flowers.

Traditional uses

The infusions made from flowers and seeds, leaves or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhoea. The leaves, roots and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, bee and scorpion stings. The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drunk for 'blood impurity' in some places of South Africa.

Other names include Umfinafincane

Propagation instructions

By seed

Propagate from seed, cuttings or by dividing large clumps. The seed should be collected once the spikey seed heads have completely dried out, these can be manually taken apart or shaken to dislodge the many small stick-shaped seeds. The seeds should be sown in spring or early summer into a finely sifted seedling mix comprised of equal parts finely graded decomposed bark, compost, loam and fine sand. The mixture is prepared in seed trays to a fine tilth and pressed down evenly and firmly, watered and drained. Seed is then sown directly onto the damp surface of the medium and very lightly covered with the same mixture or with fine sand. Fungicidal treatment is not usually necessary for this species. Trays should be kept warm but not in direct sun and watered daily until the seedlings begin to emerge, at which point watering can be reduced to three or four times per week. The seed germinates usually within two to three weeks and seedlings can be planted out into individual containers once they are large enough to handle >20 mm (ca. four weeks). Young plants can be planted out into well composted and prepared perennial flower beddings once they are approx. 300-400 mm high. Cover the soil with a thick layer of organic mulch and water well during the active growing season. Seedlings given suitable conditions can flower in their first or second growing season.

By cutting

Propagate from seed, cuttings or by dividing large clumps. This species is very easy to grow but will do best in rich well drained loamy soils with plenty of compost added. Plant in full sun and provide adequate water during the growing season, application of organic fertilizer can be applied at the beginning of the new season as well as a thick (100-150 mm) layer of organic mulch to stimulate vigorous growth. Wild dagga can tolerate moderate to severe frost, but extreme cold will force the plants into complete dormancy, cover the root zone with thick organic mulch in winter to protect the roots from freezing. Plants should be cut right back (approx. 100-200 mm high) at the end of winter, top-dressed with well-rotted manure or compost and given a deep watering to stimulate the new summer seasons growth.

References and further reading

PlantZAfrica profile »

Wikipedia page »

Seedbank Quantity
Arundel Seedbank 200
Total 200

This table below shows how many plants we are trying to obtain for this species.

Site Area Quantity
Site #1 Delft 2
Site #2 Delft 4
Site #4 Delft 5
Site #6 Delft 4
Site #10 Delft 5
Site #14 Delft 30
Site #15 Rosebank 10
Site #17 Rosebank 40
Site #22 Rosebank 30
Site #27 Mowbray 60
Site #30 Rosebank 40
Site #61 Claremont 5
Site #62 Newlands 8
3 other sites 53
Total 243

Important characteristics

Conservation status: Least Concern

This species was selected because it has various important characteristics.

This is a bird-friendly species

It provides medicinal value


Pioneer species

Easy to grow

Attracts butterflies

Suitable for clay soil

Suitable for sandy soil

It provides food for:


Southern double-collared sunbird

Leonotis leonurus is indigenous to: Cape Flats Sand Fynbos Peninsula Shale Renosterveld Cape Flats Dune Strandveld

This species is not very suitable to be grown in bare terrain. However, if other vegetation is already established then it makes a good addition. After a year of care, little watering will be necessary.

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