Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Lion's Tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) is an upright, sparsely branched annual herb that grows up to 3 m high. Its 4-angled stems bear spherical clusters of furry orange flowers and leaf-like bracts towards their ends.
  • It is spread by seed, which is prolifically produced, and prefers disturbed sites.
  • It has the potential to be an aggressive weed as it can form dense colonies that can have a negative impact on agriculture and natural ecosystems.
  • If unchecked, it could become a very serious weed, particularly in the Top End of the Northern Territory, as well as having the potential to become more widespread in tropical areas.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Lion's Tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) is a slender annual (or sometimes short-lived perennial) herb which is a member of the mint family. It has upright, somewhat thick, 4-angled (square in cross section) stem and branches up to 3 m long that are sparsely branched and covered with short whitish or pale hairs. The leaves are egg-shaped, with a toothed margin and are in pairs opposite each other, with the blade 3–12 cm or sometimes up to 20 cm long, 2–8 cm or sometimes up to 15 cm wide, decreasing in size from the base of the plant up the branches to the top.

The flowers are spaced at intervals along the upper parts of the branches. At the top of the branch there are usually 2–4 dense spherical clusters (up to 6 cm in diameter) of many orange to orange-red tubular flowers subtended by (occupying a position below, but adjacent to) sharply pointed leafy bracts (modified leaves). The flower head is velvety-hairy, 1.5–3 cm, or sometimes up to 4 cm, long, and 2-lipped with the upper lip hooded and the lower lip 3-lobed.

The fruits form in a hard, very spiky ball. Each fruit is a 4-lobed capsule consisting of 4 seed-like nutlets (1-seeded nutlets that look like seeds) that are brown, triangular, 3-keeled and 3-4.3 mm long (Cardenas et al. 1972; Kleinschmidt & Johnson 1977; Hussey et al. 1997; Csurhes & Edwards 1998; Miller & Schultz 1999; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Sainty & Associates 2007; Western Australian Herbarium 2007).

For further information and assistance with identification of Lion's Tail, contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Lion's Tail occurs mainly in the sub-humid and humid tropics as a weed of vacant areas, growing in wasteland, along roadsides, in overgrazed pastures, vacant allotments near towns, on riverbanks (often levee banks) and in disturbed sites in natural areas and native vegetation such as shrubland and grassland (Kleinschmidt & Johnson 1977; Smith 1995; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Western Australian Herbarium 2007). It can also become a weed of cultivated crops, for example, it is often a serious weed of rice and sugarcane in South America (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Are there similar species?

Lion's Tail is in the mint family (Lamiaceae), which includes many square-stemmed, often aromatic species. It is distinguished by its spherical clusters of orange flowers and spiky bracts. The introduced weed Leonotis leonurus (also commonly called Lion's Tail, Lion's Ear or sometimes Honeyweed) has leaves that are only up to 1.5 cm wide as compared to this species where they are more than 2.5 cm wide. The bright orange flowers of L. leonurus also occur in clusters, but the flowers are up to 6 cm long, where they are usually shorter in Lion's Tail and only up to 4 cm long (Conn 1992; Richardson et al. 2006; Western Australian Herbarium 2007).

Hyptis species, which may grow as weeds in similar habitats to Lion's Tail, look similar to Lion's Tail; however, Hyptis species can be distinguished by their small lavender-blue to mauve flowers and the plants minty smell (Miller & Schultz 1999).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Native ecosystems: Lion's Tail is capable of forming large colonies and dense thickets that can out-compete native vegetation, displace native plants and reduce biodiversity, e.g., along riverbanks and floodplains. Dense thickets become difficult to penetrate largely due to the spiky flower heads and are a nuisance because they hinder stock movement.

Agriculture: In the Northern Territory Lion's Tail appears to be moving into similar habitats to those favoured by Hyptis, taking over disturbed sites. Because of its prolific seeding habits, it colonises disturbed areas around stock yards, overgrazed areas and along roads, as well as on river levees (Miller & Schultz 1999; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Lion's Tail is a serious weed of rice and sugarcane in South America and could become a problem in sugarcane in Queensland (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Sainty & Associates 2007).

Human impacts: The sharp spiky seed heads are uncomfortable for people to touch and dense patches will reduce accessibility to areas (Miller & Schultz 1999; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Smith 2002; PIER 2003; Sainty & Associates 2007).

How does it spread?

Lion's Tail reproduces and is spread by seed. Nutlets are dispersed by water movement, e.g., in rivers and in mud that adheres to stock and other animals or machinery and other vehicles. Nutlets may also be spread during road grading (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Sainty & Associates 2007).

What is its history in Australia?

Lion's Tail was probably introduced to Australia as an ornamental plant, and subsequently became a garden escapee (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Sainty & Associates 2007). It is not known when it was introduced to the Northern Territory (Miller & Schultz 1999), but many herbarium records exist for the Darwin area from 1955. Herbarium records for Queensland exist from the late 1970s (Australian National Herbarium 2008; Queensland Herbarium 2008; National Herbarium of Victoria 2008).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Non-chemical control: Manual control: Small populations of Lion's Tail can be removed manually, preferably before seeding, and burnt. This needs to be followed by regular checks of the treated area to remove any seedlings. Large colonies can be controlled by cultivation where practicable, but all the plants must be completely buried and it should be followed by the establishment of a crop or pasture.

Chemical control: Plants in the vegetative stage before flowering can be sprayed with herbicide, but this will need to be repeated when any new seedlings appear (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Most seeds germinate in the early wet season (October to December) in northern Australia, although some seeds may germinate after this period. Seedlings usually grow rapidly during the remaining summer months and flower around March. The seeds mature during May–June and plants die in the dry season (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Flowering is reported to occur mostly in autumn in the tropics (Sainty & Associates 2007); however, flowering and the various other stages of growth may occur at different times of the year and will possibly differ in other regions. For example, flowers have been recorded from April to July, September, October and December (Western Australian Herbarium 2007; National Herbarium of New South Wales 2008).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Lion's Tail occurs in Western Australia (in disturbed sites in the Kimberley region and also naturalised as a garden escapee in Kings Park), the Top End of the Northern Territory and Queensland (in the Rockhampton area, in a few other towns in central Queensland and in the Cape York area) (Kleinschmidt & Johnson 1977; Smith 1995; Hussey et al. 1997; Miller & Schultz 1999; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Sainty & Associates 2007).

Where does it originate?

The origin of this species is not known. It is variously regarded as native to tropical South America (Kleinschmidt & Johnson 1977; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001), South Africa (Miller & Schultz 1999) or tropical Africa (Sainty & Associates 2007). It is also naturalised in North and South America, Cambodia, Indonesia and on Pacific and Caribbean Islands (Sainty & Associates 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Leonotis nepetifolia

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Leonotis nepetaefolia R.Br. (incorrect spelling)
  • Phlomis nepetaefolia L. (incorrect spelling)
  • Phlomis nepetifolia L.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Lion's Ear

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