Leonotis leonurus, Wild Dagga, is a very showy shrub and valuable addition to a garden. It bears stacks of whorls of bright, orange flowers towards the upper reaches of the stems. These nectar rich flowers are a big draw-card for sunbirds, other nectar feeding birds and insects and butterflies. The plants are fairly cold hardy and drought hardy.

With its profusion of bright orange flowers and copious quantities of nectar, Leonotus leonurus is a must have plant for gardeners who want to attract sunbirds to their gardens.

Family:                       LAMIACEAE        (Mint family).

Name Derivation:

  • Leonotis  – from Latin, leon, = lion, and otis = ear, referring to the hairy fringed upper lip of the flower, that is said to resemble a lion’s ear.
  • leonurus – Coloured like a lion, referring to the flower colour.

Common Names:

  • Leonotus, wild dagga (Eng), wilde dagga (Afr), imvovo (Xho), umfincafincane (Xho & Zul) and umunyane (Zul).

Leonotis leonurus, Wild Dagga, is a robust, evergreen shrub that may grow to 2 by 2 metres.

Form:            An evergreen, robust shrub.

Size:             2 m by 2 m.


  • Bright orange, tubular flowers are borne in whorled clusters.
  • Between 3 and 12 clusters are layered on tall, upright inflorescences.
  • The flowers are velvety to the touch and about 2 cm long.
  • Flowers are rich in nectar.

Colour:                          Bright orange, or occasionally creamy white.

Flowering Months       Nov – Sep.


  • Flowers are not scented.
  • Crushed leaves and stems have quite a strong smell.


  • Evergreen.
  • Leaves are linear with short petioles (leaf stalks).
  • The margins are serrated on the upper half.

Thorns:        No thorns.


  • The seeds are contained in the dried, whorled calyxes.
  • The whorled calyxes resemble the nests of paper wasps.

In the Garden:

  •  Worthy of space in a garden if only for its beautiful floral show.
  • A must for all ‘wildlife friendly’ gardens.
  • Can be planted in an informal mixed border, or on a large rockery.
  • Often planted for its medicinal qualities.
  • Drought hardy and water-wise

Soil Needs:

  •  Not very fussy, but best in a well composted and well-drained soil.

The seeds of Leonotis leonurus are contained in the dried, whorled calyxes and resemble the nests of paper wasps.

Leonotis leonurus in a mixed bed flowering in November along side Agapanthus.

The long Leonotis leonurus flower raceme mean the flowers are held clear of the plant.


  • A low maintenance shrub.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against cold.
  • Prune back harshly in spring to retain youthfulness.

Cold Hardiness:         Cold hardy, but frost sensitive when young.

Water Requirements:

  • Drought hardy, but thrives on regular summer water.
  • Water-wise shrub.

Light Requirements:           More sun than shade.

Roots:       The roots are not aggressive.


  • This plant attracts all sunbirds and other nectar feeding birds.
  • Insectivorous birds are attracted to insects that feed on the Leonotis leonurus flowers.


Insects and Butterflies:

  • Bees, adult butterflies and moths feed from the flowers.
  • The larvae of the Bush Bronze, Cacyreus lingeus, not found in Gauteng, feed on Leonotis leonurus.


  • Leonotis leonurus is and has been widely used in traditional and folk medicine to treat a number or ailments.
  • Infusions of twigs, leaves and flowers are used to treat skin problems.
  • Strong infusions added to a bath are said to relieve sore muscles and cramp.
  • Used in traditional medicine to treat snakebites.
  • A tea made from the flowers is used to sooth sore throats, as well as treat jaundice, headaches, high blood pressure and asthma.
  • Leaves are smoked to treat epilepsy.

Sunbirds, including White-bellied Sunbirds will frequent gardens with flowering Leonotis leonurus to feed on the flower’s nectar.

There is a white flowered variety of Leonotis leonurus known as “Albiflora” that is quite popular with gardeners.


Leonotis leonurus in its natural habitat in the Drakensberg, at Cathedral Peak.

Notes of interest:

  • Despite the common name, Wild Dagga, Leonotus leonurus has only very mild, if any, narcotic properties.
  • Leonotis leonurus var “Albiflora’ has white flowers and is popular with gardeners.

Natural Distribution:

  • WC, EC, KZN, L and G.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grassland, rocky grassy ridges, forest edges and along stream banks.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs)  2018.