Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Lavender is a perennial plant, but its survival through the winter depends on the climate. It can typically withstand temperate winters but may die in cold and wet conditions.
- There are around 30 species of lavender native to Mediterranean countries, including the well-known French, English, Lavandin, Portuguese, and Spanish lavender.
- Lavender species vary in their blooming time, scent, appearance, and ideal growing conditions, making them versatile for different gardening needs.
- Lavender is an herbaceous perennial that goes dormant in the winter but remains alive underground. Its life expectancy can be up to 15 years under optimal conditions.
- Historically, lavender has been used for various purposes, including in perfumes, antiseptics, and aromatherapy. Today, it’s popular in sachets, potpourri, soaps, candles, teas, and infused oils.
In the world of plants, lavender stands out as a beloved and fragrant gem. But as gardening enthusiasts and curious minds ponder its life cycle, one question arises: Is lavender a perennial?
Lavender is a perennial, but only if growing conditions are not too cold and wet. Some lavenders are tender and will die in temperate winters unless brought indoors.
But what makes it a perennial? How does it stay pretty and alive for so long? In this article, we go on a botanical adventure to find out the truth about this wonderful-smelling plant.
What is Lavender?
Lavenders are members of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). This includes hyssop, rosemary, oregano, salvia, and peppermint, as well as patchouli.
There are roughly 30 species of lavender. They are native to countries around the Mediterranean. They are common in herb gardens. They have been used since ancient Greek times for their scented leaves and flowers.
Lavender can be woody, but it also has herbaceous properties as it goes dormant each winter. The genus Lavandula includes species of annuals, herbaceous perennials, sub-shrubs, and small shrubs.
Lavender is an herbaceous perennial. Though how perennial it is depends on the conditions it is growing in.
What Is a Herbaceous Perennial?
Herbaceous perennials are plants that die down to their roots each winter, but they are still living under the ground. They are dormant but still alive. This differs from an annual plant, where the roots die as well as the top growth.
Perennials are plants that live for a number of years. This includes most trees and shrubs, but also many plants that grow in flower garden beds.
Other herbaceous perennials you may know include:
Species of Lavender
There are several species of lavender that are commonly sold. First off, though, how many species of lavender are there?
There are between 30 and 47 different species of lavender, with 450 cultivars. Some of the most well-known are:
- French lavender
- English Lavender
- Portuguese Lavender
- Spanish Lavender
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
French Lavender (L. dentata)
French Lavender is also known as “Fringed Lavender.” This is due to its toothed leaves. It’s actually native to Eastern and Southern Spain, not France.
French Lavender is mainly used for baking and to scent things around the house. It has a more lemony scent than English lavender. It also looks great in a flower bed with its sculptural flower spikes.
It flowers from early Summer all the way through the fall.
You can recognize French Lavender by:
- Dense flowerheads with light purple bracts and light blue corollas. The corolla is the part of the flower making up the petals. Bracts are the bottom part of the flower.
- Milder fragrance than other lavenders
- Gray-green leaves with toothed edges (dentate edges).
- 12-36 inches (30-90 cm) in height
- Inflorescence (flower spike) with reduced sterile bracts
English Lavender (L. angustifolia)
English lavender does not originate from England, despite the name. It comes from the Mediterranean. It is grown in large amounts in Provence, France.
There are quite a few romantic pictures of large-hatted French ladies drifting through fields of lavender.
English lavender flowers from early Summer to midsummer. It’s used in informal plantings and rock gardens, as well as country garden beds and borders.
It is also known as “Common Lavender” and “True Lavender.”
Here’s how to recognize English Lavender:
- Gray-green to green-purple leaves with smooth edges
- Flower color can vary from white-pink to blue-purple, lavender or violet depending on which cultivar
- Releases aromatic oils when brushed against or crushed in the fingers
- 2–3 ft (60–90cm) in height
- Wispy flowers in drifts
- Semi-woody, semi-evergreen, and hardy from Zones 5–9.
Lavandin (L x intermedia)
Lavandin is a hybrid between English and Portuguese lavender. This means it has the cold tolerance of the English species and the heat tolerance of the Portuguese species.
This is great for gardeners trying to achieve that sun-kissed Mediterranean look in less than ideal weather conditions.
It blooms from midsummer to late Summer. It‘s ideal for use as an accent plant or for rock gardens, hedges, mass plantings, and borders. Accent plants are plants that contrast with their neighbors, drawing the eye.
Here’s how to recognize Lavandin:
- Gray-green foliage is highly aromatic
- Highly aromatic, long flower spikes from dark blue to white
- 30 inches (75 cm) tall
- Compact mound shape
- Hardy from zones 5 to 9
- Many cultivars
Portuguese Lavender (L. latifolia)
Portuguese lavender can also be known by its other name, spike lavender. It’s native to the Western Mediterranean. It has a stronger scent than English lavender.
You can recognize Portuguese Lavender by:
- Pale lilac flowers on long spikes
- Flowers from late Spring to late Summer
- Wide, coarse evergreen leaves
- 1-3 ft (30-90 cm) in height
- Strongly aromatic
- Hardy from zones 6–8
Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas)
Spanish lavender is, rather confusingly, also known as butterfly lavender or French lavender. It is, however, a separate species. It’s native to both Northern Africa and the Mediterranean.
It has distinctive flowers with tassels, which look a bit like butterfly wings. It’s used for potpourri and essential oils. It can handle a higher level of humidity than English lavender. It’s great in containers, as ground cover, or in mass plantings.
You can recognize Spanish lavender by:
- Deep purple flowers with tufts of brightly colored petals coming out of the top
- Continuous blooming from mid-spring to late summer
- Silvery, aromatic leaves
- Flowers don’t really have a scent
- Evergreen mound-shaped bush
- 18–24 inches (45–60 cm) in height
- Hardy from zones 8–9
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Where Can I Find Lavender?
Lavender grows in the Mediterranean region. It grows on dry, sandy, or rocky soil. It favors mountainous areas. English Lavender’s (Lavandula angustifolia) natural range is from north-east Spain to Italy.
Lavender’s natural range is from Cape Verde to Northern Africa, the Canary Islands, and through the Mediterranean.
Lavender is grown in places as far away as Australia on farms with the right climate.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Lavender
Lavender grows on rocky, sandy, and dry soils. It needs a lot of drainage. It doesn’t like too much rain, or it will get waterlogged and rot.
Lavender needs at least 8 hours of sunlight a day. It is quite happy in the heat. Its leaves are tough and do not lose much water as they are very small, almost like a succulent.
Uses of Lavender
Read on to find out some of the classic uses for lavender around the world.
- Lavender sachets: these can be put into drawers to scent fresh clothing
- Bath salts
- Lavender tea
- Lavender-pollinated honey
- Infused vinegars and oils
- Room spray
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History of Lavender
Lavender has been used historically since ancient Egyptian and Greek times. It has had a fascinating history for at least the last 2,500 years. Here’s a timeline of lavender’s history.
The ancient Egyptians used lavender to make perfumes. When the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun was opened, the scent of lavender could be detected inside. Queen Cleopatra used lavender oil to seduce both Mark Antony and Julius Caesar.
The Romans used lavender as an antiseptic. They dressed their battle wounds with it. They also introduced it to Britain.
They would sprinkle lavender in their bathwater. They used it to repel insects, too. In fact, the word “lavender” comes from the Latin “lavare,” meaning “to wash.”
The English Queen Elizabeth I used lavender perfume and tea for headaches. As lavender relieves stress, this may well have been effective.
King Louis XIV also used lavender in his bathwater. The German nun Hildegard of Bingen used ‘lavender water’ to cure migraines. This was a potent mix of lavender and gin or vodka.
Doctors used lavender to stuff their masks and gloves during the Great Plague of London in 1665. The scent was thought to ward off the plague. The Great Plague was caused by fleas from rats. Lavender does repel fleas, so this would have worked to some extent.
Best Places to See Lavender Around the World
If you want to go and see lavender where it is grown around the world, here are the most famous and beautiful spots.
- Chemin de Lavandes, Provence, France: The village of Sault in Provence is the start of a 5.5 km loop of lavender fields. Go in June or July to see the best blooms. You can hike into the fields or see them from the town square while eating pizza.
- Snowshill Lavender Farm, England: In the Cotswolds, a 2-hour drive from London, is this beautiful lavender farm. There’s a wildflower meadow to walk through, too. It is open from July to September.
- Bridestow Lavender, Tasmania: Over 50,000 people visit this lavender farm annually. Tasmania has a similar climate to Provence in France, making it ideal for growing lavender.
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Does lavender come back to life after winter?
Lavender dies back to its roots in the winter in temperate climates. This is called going dormant. Lavender regrows each spring.
The exact time it grows back can vary widely, but wait until at least May before declaring a lavender to be dead.
How many years will lavender last?
In optimal growing conditions and with the right care, English lavender can live for up to 15 years.
If non-English lavender gets too cold, it can die within one year. French lavender is more short-lived, with 5 years being a respectable age to reach.
Does lavender spread on its own?
Lavender will spread both vegetatively and by producing seed.
However, the germination rate of its seed is so low that most of its reproductive capacity comes from vegetative growth. They will not divide or self-propagate. If a gardener takes a cutting, though, lavender will grow from the cutting.
Do you cut back lavender after it blooms?
To keep lavender looking attractive, it’s better to prune off the dead flower heads after they bloom. This will be in the late summer. You need to trim off the flower heads and the top 2.5 cm (1 inch) of leaf growth.
Which is the strongest-smelling lavender?
Lavandin is known as the strongest-smelling lavender. It is a hybrid between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia.
Common Lavender is also well known for its scent. There are 450 varieties of lavender, though, so that’s a lot of sniffing around to choose the right one.
How do you revive lavender after winter?
Place your lavender in a sunny area, and make sure the soil is gritty and well drained. You want to recreate the Mediterranean conditions that lavender loves.
If it has gone woody, prune it back to the soft new growth. Test for dead parts by feeling if you can crack off twigs near the base.
What happens if you don’t prune lavender?
If you don’t prune lavender, it gets out of shape and goes woody. It will produce fewer buds and flowers. This is because the woody growth blocks the new growth and buds from coming through.