Is it possible to have a yard full of native plants for the pollinators – and an edible landscape for humans at the same time? You betcha! Try these awesome aloysia. (And thanks for asking that question!)
Native Plants for Multiple Uses
There are indeed hundreds of native plants with culinary, medicinal, and other herb uses, including deterring mosquitoes. Many of these herbs are full of compounds that make them tasty to us but not at all tasty to wildlife like javelina and rabbits. And while the leaves repel wildlife, the flowers draw in a number of native pollinators such as butterflies and stingless native bees. Today we will start at the top of the alphabet and look at aloysia (ah-loi-see-a). (More wildlife-resistant plants – here)
Lemon Verbena – One Aloysia You May Know
Let’s start with one you may have heard of, lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora). That’s the feature photo for this post. It’s a heat-loving herb from South America that the Jesuits took around the world. It grows into a attractive shrub. Use dried lemon verbena for refreshing lemony flavor in tea or citric tang in potpourri. It is also used as a sleep aid and to deter mosquitoes. Protect from freezing.
There are many low-care aloysias from our desert corner of the world – all of them with fragrant, butterfly-attracting flowers. Some of them are easy to find in your local nursery, some of them take a bit of hunting. (Local nursery list – here)
From the canyons of the Sonoran Desert, the white bush (Aloysia lycioides) is a favorite of mine. It grows into a delicate vase-shaped shrub to 8 feet high with clusters of flowers on long stalks. Some plants have flowers tinged with a violet “throat.” Both types are appealing to pollinators and equally fragrant. The leaves make a soothing tea that can be used instead of chamomile to relax before slumber.
Also called Wright’s bee-bush (Aloysia wrightii) is found throughout western Mexico. Forms a vase-shaped shrub to 6 feet high. Dried leaves are sold in mercados in Sonora for culinary use, and they taste great. This is one of the plants sold as “Mexican oregano.” Occasionally called bee bush or Wright’s bee bush it is said to form the basis for excellent honey. It also has stalks of small white flowers all summer long.
Soil. Aloysia do best in well-drained soil. They did okay in the clay soil of my previous home, but I’m a plant nerd and was careful to not over-water them.
Water. Aloysia prefer to dry out somewhat between waterings. If the roots stay too wet, they can rot.
Location. While many herbs like plenty of sun, the Aloysias all do better with part or filtered shade, especially on summer afternoons. The east side of your house might work well.
Space. Plants do better if they are not crowded. Space around each plant allows for sunlight, good air flow, ample water for the roots, and access to all the soil minerals needed. Spacing of plants out in the wild desert is due to water restraints. If you are willing to water, you could plant a hedge of Aloysia.
Fertilize. Herbs in general do not need a great deal of fertilizer. After pruning or planting, wait a minimum of two weeks before fertilizing. I fertilize about three times a year, with half-strength general fertilizer.
Try any of these awesome Aloysia in your yard for their low-water beauty, as a nectar source for native bees, and a source of culinary herbs for yourself. Sustainable living at it’s finest!
Learn More about Butterfly Gardening
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More about butterfly plants for your landscape in this book Butterfly Gardening in Southern Arizona (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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