Types of Lavender

a.k.a. Lavandula

Most types of lavender are from the mint, or Lamiaceae family but as with other varieties (below), they do come from other plant families. 

All types of lavender are native to the Mediterranean but also grow abundantly in India.  In India lavenders are popular in moon gardens.  Plants in moon gardens are planted for both light and fragrance.  Flowers reflect the moon's glow on summer evenings and other popular blooms include narcissus, lily, phlox, nicotiana, jasmine and gardenia. 

Photo: matthewgore

Lavenders are mid-season (June through September) long blooming perennial shrubs.

As many flowers, lavender varieties are rich with history.  Much of this history includes its use for medicinal purposes.  It was known for soothing the stomach to comforting the brain to the heart, referring to different aches. 

Today this disinfectant is used for many of the same purposes and other lavender products.  It offers visual, aromatic and medicinal effects.

  • Its aromatic herb is used for soaps, lavender sachets, aromatherapy oil, a dried flower bouquet to lavender candles.

  • Used for relief of bug bites, mild burns, skin irritations, sunburn and swelling relief.

  • Four lavender varieties have oils that simulate the generation of new skin cells are:

         Lavandula spica, or Spike.
         Lavandula vera, or English.
         Lavandula stoechas, or Spanish.
         Lavandual dentata, or French.

  • It is a stimulant, especially circulatory and uterine.  Because of this, Lavandula herbal tea benefits are plenty but they shouldn't be consumed during pregnancy.

  • Cooking with lavender is also popular throughout history.  Today the dried herbs are used for flavoring various foods including sorbets, puddings, frostings, js, teas, vinegars, baked goods and meat dishes.  How about a lavender lemonade? Sounds great!

For the gardener many types of lavender are easy to grow while others are an art that needs to be learned.  Because of this they are broken down into two types based on their tolerance to frost:

  • Hardy
  • Tender

Perennials are hardy enough for most colder climates.  If they are a tender variety, colder climates should plant them as an annual.  Tender varieties are also popular for container growing where they can easily be brought indoors over winter.

Location is also important.  Regardless of hardy or tender, warmer or colder areas, micro-climates make a big difference if a plant survives or not.  Examples:

  • In warmer areas when temperatures fall at night, micro-climate temperatures can drop to freezing or below, the shrub can die.
  • In colder climates place hardy species in spots where north-
    westerly and other high winter winds will also kill shrubs.

Other great reasons gardeners enjoy growing lavendula shrubs:

  • Fragrant plants
  • Flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. 
  • Overall, insect repellent.  Repels many insects including flies, gnats, midges, mosquitoes and more.
  • Rabbit and deer resistant plants along with other animals.
  • Great for companion planting for those gardener gotta have plants that are also great at attracting deer.

All types of lavender are great in warm climates both sub-species and cultivars. 

They prefer sunny (no shade), dry soils and hot conditions.  They can survive semi-drought conditions, not long droughts though.

  • They respond best in poor soils, thus producing the most fragrance.
  • If soil too rich, even healthy, oils are lacking.
  • Best pH is 6.5 to 8.3, or more alkaline.  Put lime pellets on soil.
  • Too much nitrogen in soil can make Lavendulas susceptible to diseases.
  • Lavendulas are sensitive to fungus.  High humidity areas can promote these.  Grow plants 2 to 3 feet apart so fungus problems don't occur.  Water in the morning.

         *One disease:  Shab (phoma lavendula) are black spore spots that will eventually kill plant.  If this is detected, pull up and burn plant.  There is no cure.

         *Root rot is also very common.  When mulching avoid using those that retain moisture such as bark, hay or shells.  Try pebbles because most types of lavender are well suited in rock gardens.

    Take note the above root rot and shab are prevalent especially in wet springs or after wet winters.

Other suggestions for successful growth:

  • Fertilize with compost or well rotted manure one time a year.
  • Prune in spring after all frosts have passed.
  • When transplanting root bound plants from containers be aware that plants are very stressed.  Remove plant with care or it may die.

The most common types of lavender

1)  Lavandula angustifolia
     Known as True, Common and English Lavender.
    Synonyms are L. officinalis, Lavandula spica

Known for fragrance in soaps, air fresheners and potpourris. 

This is a hardy genus of Lavandula known earlier as L.spica.   Blooming mid-summer through Autumn, leaves are a narrow silvery-gray.

Easy to grow and this hardy variety can usually withstand zones 5-8.  If shoots are partially killed din winter, prune any dead wood and reshape after last frost in spring.  The shrub can struggle in hot climates.

Different types of Lavender angustifolia include:

  • 'Hidcote' - Known also as Nana Atropurpurea, is one of the finest forms of lavandua.  Compact with dark purple, free-flowing flowers this shrub is very compact. 
  • 'Munstead' - Soft purple colored flowers.
  • 'Jean Davis' - Pale pink flowers.
  • 'Nana Alba' - White flowers.
  • 'Munstead' - Purple flowers, this is considered the hardiest of most.

If purchasing a seed packet these are known for inconsistencies of seed inside.  If seeking to plant a border, be aware.  Packets usually consist of a medley of L. spica (spike), L. angustifolia and L. vera (cvs).

2)  Lavanduala dentata (French lavender),
          Lavandula stoechas (Spanish lavender)

        Synonym for Spanish - L. delphinensis Hortorum.

These two are often used interchangeably as they are
both very popular drying lavender.

Easy to grow and considered hardy in most areas, these slightly tender evergreen shrubs are more easily damaged by hard frosts.  They are considered more tender than L. angustifolia, or English.

They grow early into mid-summer.  French has very dark purple, dense heads and Spanish has pink/purple bracts resting atop their stalks.  Both French and Spanish flower scents have a hint of pine.

3)   Lavandula latifolia & L. spica (Spike)

Spike Lavender

Known for its pure lavender essential oils with a camphorous benefits, it can take 500 pounds of flowers to produce 1.5 pounds of oil.  Leave it to the lavender farms to do that! 

Cultivars make a good dry lavender and also are the best for cutting and placing into a fresh flower bouquet.

Overall as a rule of thumb the best dried lavender flowers to use are those with the deepest blue colors as with the L. spica genus.  These include:

  • Lavandula x intermedia 'Dutch'
  • Lavandula x anustifolia 'Hidcote'
  • Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso', L. x 'Provence' -
    Plants that produce the longest, straightest stems.
  • If using for a flower bouquet it is best to cut stems early morning and strip the leaves from the bottom of stems.

4)  (Limonium latiflium) Sea lavender
     aka Statice, syn: Static sinuata.  Slightly different is Limonium
     sinuatum which is wavyleaf sea lavender. 

As its name implies, L. latiflium makes a great seaside plant.

While most types of lavender are from the mint, or Lamiaceae family, Limonium latiflium is from the plumbago (Plumbaginaceae) or leadwort family.

Statice - Pink Pokers
wavyleaf sea-lavender

It blooms late summer into autumn and is great for rock gardens.  While not very common, it is drought tolerant and works well for front borders, especially planting zones 7-9.

Appearance of Limonium latifliums have a similar effect as baby's breath.  It has long, thin stems and pinkish-violet colored flowers are domed clusters.  Leaves are a flat rosette of dark green, shiny leaves.

Limonium's take a very long time to get established, especially by seed.  They are very sensitive and easily disturbed.  Once established the plant flourishes.  Plant is subject to crown rot - a soil-borne fungus that can live in the soil indefinitely. 

5)  (Santiolina chamaecyparissus) Cotton Lavender
     aka Santolina, Lavender Cotton

Cotton Lavender

A good salve for bites, potpourris and flower arrangements.

Yet a different family from Lavandula
and the above plumbaginaceae. This
mounding perennial shrub is from the Asteraceae, or daisy and sunflower
family.  It grows mid-spring to autumn
in planting zones 6-11.

As with other types of lavender, Cotton is good in rock gardens, as border shrubs and container gardening.  Somewhat temperamental, this is also drought tolerant and better in warmer environments.  High humidity can cause the plant to wilt. 

The is a bushy ever-grey shrupb with thin stalks, button-like yellow flowers and leaves are white and wooly.  Common species of Cotton are:

  • 'Lemon Queen' - bright green foliage with cream colored flowers.
  • 'Neapolitana' - bright green flowers

The History of Lavender

Lavender is Latin from 'Lavare' which means 'to wash'.

  • Although bathing was common for the Romans but by 16th century England sewage water was not deemed sanitary.  Since bathing wasn't considered healthy and soap, when it was available, was very expensive.  By 1568 lavender became very common to grow and it was considered a 'cheap' perfume used primarily for hygiene.

    By the 19th century soap was far less expensive and water became the standard method of bathing.  The use of perfumes became suspect, as if to hide something.  Perspectives came and went as to using it to masque odors or "..recommending the old practice of laying clean linen in lavender in preference to throwing the extra of it on dirty clothes" (Henry Phillips in the 1820's).

  • Throughout history folklore was lavenders were used to ward off evil.

  • Ever had a relative who often used the phrase "I laid them out in lavender"?  The meaning behind this:

         * To keep bodies fragrant after death they would lay them out in lavender to keep them fresh.  Translation:  I buried them.

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