Leonotis nepetifolia

Leonotis nepetifolia, although originally from Africa, where its common name is Klipp Dagga, has been naturalized and can be found throughout the Caribbean and the Americas as well as the Indian subcontinent, where there are more than a dozen common names corresponding to the linguistic diversity of this region, including Lion’s Ear.

Sometimes considered an exotic invasive species, more often it is a highly-revered plant with many therapeutic applications and sacred connotations, especially among Indigenous groups such as the Cora (Náyari) (Mexico) and the Guaraní (Paraguay).

In Trinidad, it is called Shandilay, and is an important folk medicine used to relieve fevers and coughs as well as the symptoms of diabetes and asthma.

As its square stem would suggest, it belongs to the mint family (Labiatea).

In Spanish-speaking countries, common names include Flor de Mundo (World Flower) and Mota, a moniker that points to the use of its dried leaves and flowers smoked as a marijuana substitute. We are pleased to be able to include confocal images of the flowers with their remarkable juxtapositions of textures around pollen grains as well as some of the most aesthetically-complex visualizations of trichomes of any plants we have been able to include. The markedly long, thin straight stem of Leonotis nepetifolia has earned the plant names in Spanish associated with walking sticks, canes, and rods that are symbols of religious power: Bastón de San Francisco, Vara de San José and Vara de San Juan. In the common name Bola del Rey (King’s Orb), one can see the plant’s regal and ornate spherical seed pod. Another common name, Cordón de San Francisco, suggests the way that the stem seems to grow through the center of the multiple seed pods that, in this sense, resemble a monk’s knotted rope cincture. It is from these very prickly spheres that a multitude of gorgeous orange furry flowers emerge.

It is interesting to note that in South America (Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay), non-Indigenous people cultivate Leonotis nepetifolia near their homes for medicinal purposes. In the same geographical area, however, the Guaraní people grow this plant, which they call Corazón de San Francisco (Heart of St. Francis), primarily because its tubular blossoms attract hummingbirds, a species that this Indigenous group believes are messengers of lightning, one of their most important deities.

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