Lavandula stoechas (Spanish Lavender or French Lavender)
Lavandula stoechas, commonly called French Lavender in the UK and Spanish Lavender in the US, is a small aromatic evergreen shrub, with upright stems of narrow grey-green leaves and long stalks bearing oval heads of tiny purple flowers topped with pink bracts.
It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin but can be found all over the world. They are even considered an invasive species in Australia and New Zealand.
Due to its wide distribution and some slight differences in its appearance, there are two recognized subspecies:
- Lavandula stoechas pedunculata, once considered an individual species (L. pedunculata), is native to the coastal regions of the Mediterranean basin.
- Lavandula stoechas luisieri which has a longer oval flower head and shorter bracts, is found mainly in Portugal and adjacent areas of Spain.
HEIGHT & WIDTH
- Botanical name: Lavandula stoechas (lav-AN-du-la STO-kas)
- Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
- Common name: Spanish lavender (U.S.), French lavender (U.K.), Butterfly lavender, Topped lavender
|Lavandula||Comes from the Latin word “lava”, which means wash since lavender was so commonly used during bathing.|
|stoechas||Refers to the French Islands called Stoechades, where this plant was first identified.|
How to identify Lavandula stoechas
This lavender is a small aromatic evergreen shrub with a bushy form. It has many erect stems with grey-green leaves and long stalks bearing oval inflorescences of dense purple flowers topped with pink bracts.
The shrub has an average height of 40cm (1.3 ft). With flowers, it can reach 60cm (2 ft). The width is, on average, 60 cm (2 ft).
The stems are upright or slightly prostrate, with a green-grey colour, and hairy. The lower parts are woody and rough.
The leaves grow opposite at each node, in pairs or clustered. The flower stalk emerges from the tip of the stem.
The leaves are aromatic, grey-green and hairy.
The shape is linear and untoothed with edges turned down.
The size varies between 8 and 40 mm ( 0.4 and 1.5 in) long and 1.5-10 mm (0.06 and 0.4 in) wide.
After prolonged drought and heat, the leaves will become brownish-grey in colour.
The inflorescence is a bit complicated. It has an oval shape, around 2cm (0.8 in) long, and is composed of tiny flowers arranged in vertical rows. Each row has 2 to 7 flowers.
The tiny flowers are purple-mauve and have a fused corolla with 4 yellow stamens emerging from inside. They are two-lipped, the upper lip has 2 lobes, and the lower lip has 3 circular lobes.
The inflorescence is topped with striking pink-violet bracts 8-36mm (0.4-1.4 in) long that look like rabbit ears.
The flowers are borne on long leafless stalks and bloom in the spring.
Lavandula stoechas Usage
Lavandula stoechas is commonly used as an ornamental plant due to its attractive looks and easy maintenance. The conspicuous purple-pink flowers and grey-green foliage enhance any garden.
It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups of the same type or with other types of lavenders. It can also be planted in containers, beds and borders. In rock or gravel gardens, aromatic or seaside gardens. They are ideal for drought-tolerant and low-maintenance gardens.
Lavandula Stoechas has been used since ancient times in traditional medicine to treat anxiety, insomnia and migraines.
The oil is used in aromatherapy for relaxation and pain reduction.
It is used on the skin to heal wounds, eczema, burns, dermatitis and scabies.
Studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, sedative, insecticidal, antimicrobial and antifungal activities.
This plant is commonly used in cosmetic products such as perfumes and soaps. It is also used to produce scented sachets to scent clothes and linen.
Unlike some other lavenders, this species is very piney and camphoric, so it is not really appreciated in cooking, especially for sweet recipes.
However, some people enjoyed it for grilling and smoking meats, fish and vegetables.
This Lavender has showy flower spikes that are very attractive to bees, butterflies and moths, enriching the biodiversity in your garden.
In some places, the Lavandula steochas are traditionally used in special events. For example, in Portugal, it’s used to cover the ground for religious processions and also to release its pleasant aroma when thrown into fires that burn during the celebrations of popular saints.
It can also be used as an insect repellent.
Lavandula stoechas habitat
This shrub can be seen in dry scrublands and open woods of pines and oak trees.
It particularly likes acidic soil and dry, sunny spots
Due to its low maintenance needs, it can be seen in abandoned unfertile land and road margins.
How to plant and care for Lavandula stoechas
Lavandula stoechas is native to the Mediterranean basin and therefore adapted to hot, dry summers. It is also quite hardy, can tolerate temperatures down to -12ºC (10ºF), and is usually resistant to frost.
However, when the plant is not yet established, it will need winter protection during the first few years. You should cover the root area with mulch to protect the roots from severe frosts and very low temperatures.
Lavandula stoechas likes poor, well-drained, sandy soils. Growing in rich soils tends to produce more leaves but less essential oils.
It prefers full sun but can also handle semi-shade, although it will not produce as many flowers.
It thrives best in acidic soils but can also tolerate mildly alkaline soils.
The best time to plant this shrub is at the beginning of autumn to give it time to develop its roots while the soil is still warm.
How to water Lavandula stoechas
Lavandula stoechas is a drought-tolerant plant and does not like humid soils, which may cause fungal diseases. Once established it no longer requires watering. Avoid watering even if the summer is very hot because it fears hot humidity.
During its evolution, it developed mechanisms for drought tolerance:
- Dense hair in the branches and leaves to trap moisture
- Symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal root fungi provides water and nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates.
During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young Lavender every two to three weeks during the summer. Allow the soil to dry out between watering.
When watering, you need to do it abundantly, giving the soil a generous soak so the water can penetrate deeply into the soil to allow the roots to grow deeply.
To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the Lavender (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching.
How to prune Lavandula stoechas
This lavender will become leggy and will not live for long unless it is pruned.
You should prune it after the flowers dry out to keep it compact and avoid the shaggy woody look.
The ideal time to prune is in the spring, when you can give it a light prune, and in the summer, after flowering, give it a harder pruning. Be careful to always prune above the leaf; otherwise, the stems will die out.
Pruning should not be done in autumn because this will encourage new growth that may be killed during the cold winter.
How to propagate Lavandula stoechas
Propagation by seed
You can propagate Lavandula stoechas by sowing the seeds in spring and placing them in a greenhouse.
The seeds usually germinate in 1 to 3 months at 15ºC (60ºF).
When the seedlings are strong enough to handle, you can plant them in individual pots, grow them in the greenhouse or cold frame during the first winter, and then plant them in their final position during the following spring or autumn.
Propagation by cuttings
The easiest method of propagation is by cuttings.
Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken from mid-summer to early autumn. Take a 7 to 10 cm (2.7 to 4 in) cutting with a heel or at a node from the current year’s growth. Roots will form within a few weeks. Semi-ripe cuttings can be placed in a cold frame over winter.
Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts.
Hardwood cuttings can be taken from later autumn to early winter, placed in a cold frame over winter, and planted in the garden after the last expected frosts in the spring.
Propagation by layering
Lavender can also be propagated by layering the branches.
Other Lavenders you may also like
Sources of information used for this article
Article from Useful Temperate Plants database
Article from Jardin sec
Article from University of Evora
RHS Propagating Plants: How to Create New Plants For Free by Alan Toogood and Royal Horticultural Society
Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood